Recently, at the Teeny Tiny Summit that was held in Merrickville, guest speaker Australian Peter Kenyon gave an excellent presentation on what small rural communities can do when they work together and take the future of their communities into their own hands. He gave anecdote after anecdote about rural communities who looked to be lifeless, and then one member of the community makes a decision that causes a chain reaction of positive energy. One of his messages, that seemed to make a few municipal employees and politicians nod in agreement, was for people to stop waiting for the government to fix everything, or make things happen. However, possibly the strongest message from Peter, was that we should all stop waiting for caring and engaged people to come along and realize that we ourselves are the people that we’ve been looking for.
Doug Griffiths, the author of the book “13 Ways To Kill Your Community”, is an Albertan who tours North America giving similar presentations to communities. The former Member of the Legislative Assembly in Alberta has conducted workshops and engaged in consultations with various municipalities, community organizations, and other groups. In his book, Doug highlights the ways that communities continue to harm themselves, often without realizing it. He also gives anecdotes about communities that have turned their fortunes around after realizing what they’ve been doing wrong and then correcting it. Some of the chapters in the “13 Ways” book include “Live In The Past”, “Don’t Engage Youth”, “Don’t Co-operate”, “Grow Complacent” and “Reject Everything New”.
Quite often, we associate these type of success stories with some sort of economic development project. We think of a new and exciting business that comes to town, or someone with a bunch of money comes in, buys something and fixes it up, and it becomes a big sensation. Instead, let’s take a step back and consider the importance of the community itself. To have one of these great stories to tell people, you first need the community to buy into what’s happening. Consider the little town of Bulls in New Zealand that decided to rename all of the businesses, facilities, and organizations to names that contained the town name of “Bulls” in it. The library became “Read-A-Bull”, the police station became “Const-A-Bull” and the Town Hall was re-named “Social-A-Bull”. Tourism spiked for the little town and they’ve now branded themselves as the “Punniest Place On Earth”.
As important as economic development is to the success of any community or municipality, there should be an equal amount of consideration given to the importance of community development. A community that is made up of caring, engaged people, who understand how critical each and every member of that community is, is absolutely essential to all of those tales of success. People or companies who ride into town with lots of money are nice if you can find them (everyone else is looking for them too), but why would you need them, if you have an entire town full of inspired people?