Catherine Read believes the future of Fairfax City rests in the imagination of its residents. She's running for council to bring collaboration and creative problem-solving to City Hall.
"Right now our city council represents the people who vote. That's a tiny percentage of the community," she said. "The minority of people are the decision makers. The key is to identify and cultivate community leaders across the whole."
She announced her candidacy for council in February. , Read hopes that a fresh face and a new, all-inclusive approach to fixing the city's problems will attract voters on May 1.
"The future is about collaboration, beng open to change and innovation," she said. "If you close yourself off from that, people will go around you. Or in the case of the city, people will go somewhere else."
Take Old Town Fairfax for example.
Read supports the Kitty Pozer open space project that . She imagines a thriving, ever-changing downtown center filled with all aspects of Fairfax City community. Read sees art league classes, tai chi lessons, carts of kids books and community meetups where others worry about parking.
"People consume experiences," she said. "You can't expect to put in a new deli or restaurant and think people are going to get in their cars and drive a mile over here just for that. A parking space is a parking space 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And when it gets dark here they're all empty."
The current council needs someone with a new approach to reach out for ideas from the untapped Fairfax City community, she said. A small business owner with her own social media consulting firm, Read understands the importance of relying on the insight and experiences of a crowd rather than a single expert.
"The thoughts of any diverse group is going to be better or more accurate than the thoughts of any one person in a council," she said.
She embraces social media as a tool to receive community feedback and exchange ideas. Developers are beginning to realize that Facebook, Twitter, email and web posts are critical to understanding how a community feels about a proposed project and getting it approved by city leaders.
"If you want a fountain in Fairfax City, you will do a lot of that through social media," she said. "That's where the voice of the people will be able to provide a clear mandate to the city council. A different voice. Right now the voice of the people belongs to the few who come to city council meetings."
She also wants to help create new ways for residents and business owners to get involved. Read envisions an organization of volunteers who are involved in local issues, donate space for meetings, reach out to others and present their ideas as alternatives and add-ons to city staff reports.
"Most things in life are about a lack of imagination," she said. "We need visionary people who can help people see what things could be, can be, will be."
Read suggests reaching out to George Mason University for young entrepreneurs, tapping their ideas and helping make them reality. Kitty Pozer design plans could go through an open competition of sorts, available to anyone regardless of age or credential.
"We need to paint a picture of what can be, not what we don't have," she said.