A new reader named Diane wrote in to tell me about her small town. She just retired and moved back to the town where she graduated high school. She wants to be near family. That’s good. Except the town hasn’t made any progress between when she graduated and when she retired. 40 years, no apparent progress. That’s bad.
Diane listed off the few existing businesses, and how little they attract her as a customer. She’s been doing her shopping 30 to 40 miles away where the stores are a little more appealing.
The looks of the town aren’t helping either. She says it looks dirty, and the houses look poorly maintained. And there’s nothing much for kids to do that she can see.
“Every one I speak to are unhappy with their city leaders,” Diane said. “They know they need new leaders. They know we need something to bring people to town. But, they say they get shot down by the leaders whenever they mention anything.”
“If I remain here, I will get involved,” she said. “But, I am seriously thinking of moving to a town 10 miles from here because they have so much more to offer.”
Here’s what I told Diane I would do.
First, go look at that other little town, that one that she is thinking of moving to. What could your town copy or do similarly?
Second, find out who is already doing good stuff no matter what city leaders say. Every town has a revolutionary or two. The power to get started is right there.
I wrapped up by telling her something that surprised even me:
“And if it’s not the right town for you, don’t be afraid to find the town that is. Plenty of towns doing cool and interesting things right now.”
And that is the blunt truth of it. Your town cannot afford to stay the town that can’t get it together. People are incredibly mobile, and 40% of all people in the US move to a new home in any five year span. (I just heard that stat from Ben Winchester.)
People can choose to move to your town or any other town that they like better. They can choose to move away if your town makes them miserable.
I wasn’t surprised to hear Diana talk about the problems with businesses, services, things to do, and then mention that a small group of leaders shoot down all the ideas. How do you think the town got the way it is? Over 40 years, a changing cast of people used saying no as a leadership tool. And it has been happening in a lot of small towns.
What can you do, especially if you’re not one of the small group of leaders?
1. Forget about that small group who shoot down ideas. Let them keep shooting at ideas, while you and everyone else leave the battlefield and start the idea war in an entirely new way: with action instead of asking for permission.
2. Improving the looks of the town starts with you and homeowners and building owners and volunteers and private people. The small group can’t stop you from cleaning up.
3. Forming new businesses is up to you and everyone else in town. Start experiments and tests of new businesses, pop-ups and shared buildings and tiny business villages. The small group can’t stop you from testing.
4. Creating things to do is up to you and everyone else. Hold picnics and events and crafternoons and coworking in the park. The small group can’t stop you from getting together and enjoying community.
Everything that really matters in your town is up to you and the regular people now. The old guard will have to find a new role.
Get a weekly dose of positivity for small communities from Becky McCray and Deb Brown, co-founders of SaveYour.Town. We share practical steps you can put into action right away.
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