If your town can’t get its act together enough to accept help or seek opportunities, should outside groups spend any of their limited time and resources on you? Or should they focus instead on the places with the best prospects of success?
When I first had this conversation with Joe Borgstrom a few years ago, I was a bit appalled. Don’t the people of those towns deserve a quality of life, too? Is it their fault that the town board is fighting tooth and nail?
When I interviewed Joe for the second season of my podcast, we talked about it again. I’ve realized Joe is right about this. All people deserve a quality life, but not all of them will get it. In this era of extremely limited resources, the agencies and funders will have to draw some lines. And if we’re honest, this has been true for a long time.
It’s a self-service world, and the best solutions come from within. You want your town to be saved? Start saving it yourself, as best you can. Your tiny steps will lead to small successes. You’ll fail, too, along the way. Other people will squash your best ideas, and the opposition will drive you bananas. That’s part of what it takes to succeed. But it will all lead to bigger successes. And successful communities attract more resources. Towns that are just begging won’t get much positive attention.
“But my town sucks,” you might say. Let’s be honest. Most towns suck to some degree. You have to start by acting on your own. You do what you can, and it won’t be easy. Build relationships with other local revolutionaries. Savor small, even tiny, victories. Build relationships with the people in neighboring towns, the towns that other people consider enemies. Build online relationships with like-minded people in different areas. Draw support from each other and dream up small but meaningful ways to make a difference.
Take the ideas you’ve read here and all those other resources online, and pick one idea. Scale that idea down to do-able, then do it.
Fair warning: The towns that keep sucking the life out of their residents are going to be the ones that head downhill the fastest. People can be extraordinarily mobile today, and they can choose to invest themselves in any one of the many amazing and cool small towns out there. So it matters that you take even a tiny step to make your town a little better place to live.
Start by listening to Joe Borgstrom talk about Main Street and other signs of hope for small towns. Follow up with the second conversation with Joe Borgstrom about what Placemaking really should be, and why coffee and calendars can change everything in your town.
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