Russ was telling me about his dad, how he had been one of the small group of guys who improved his small town in the 1950s and 1960s. They served on the chamber of commerce board together, belonged to the Kiwanis Club together, and went to the country club together. These were the people who had the vision and drive to modernize the town, to build a new hospital, start a community college, build a new nursing home and more.
That used to be how towns were improved: a small group of people developed the vision and drove it through committees and organizations. Russ said those guys are all gone; who will replace them? Who will improve small towns today?
No one will replace them, exactly. It doesn’t work like that any more.
New communications tools have completely replaced the manual typewriters and the land line telephones that drove the committee-and-organization model decades ago. Today’s instant communication in your pocket drives a new model of civic organization: we all participate.
Everyone contributes, even in small ways. A few people set out the challenge, the compelling idea, the future of the town. Instead of relying on committees to bring order, they rely on the crowd to make things happen themselves, and a certain amount of disorder is OK.
They share an inspiring and interesting vision that is still do-able and realistic. Then they tear down the barriers to participation, making it easier and easier for all the people to make any kind of contribution, even the smallest.
Who replaces the small group of civic builders from yesterday? We all do.
The challenge is getting past our current civic organizing structure, which is still modeled on the typewriter-and-landline era. We can’t expect the town leaders to abolish the planning commission today in favor of a crowd-sourced town tomorrow. Not yet. But we can start by setting a vision for one project, just one, that openly invites people to create it together. That’s our first step.
Keep shaping the future of your town,
PS – Would your members benefit from webinars on Innovative Rural Business Models, Rural Jobs Creation Strategies and Changing Small Town Attitudes? Deb Brown and I will be leading the webinars, and we’re looking for rural organizations that would like to deliver these to their members. Hit reply, and ask about the details.