When a town decides to face the harsh realities associated with transforming a blighted area into a prosperous one, or infusing a a stagnant community with vitality, money is most often cited as the primary obstacle. I would wholly disagree.
Yes, money or the lack there of is a very serious issue that hinders development but community apathy and frustration is an even larger determent. As an example consider my adopted hometown and two recent articles in the Kingman Daily Miner.
The first article is about the potential economic impact of Route 66 on communities along that highway corridor. The second article is about an indie film shot in Kingman.
Now, read the comments at the end of each article. Do you see a pattern? Would it be safe to assume that this community has self esteem issues?
You have three choices when living in such a community. The first is to accept it and, on occasion, whine. This, however, carries the inherent risk of a growing awareness that you are part of the problem.
The second choice is to move. Simply cut your losses, curb the frustration, and move.
The third option is to admit that you may have been part of the problem. Next roll up your sleeves and join the fight.
Keep in mind that the poison of community apathy will always trump the best laid plans. It will also ensure that opportunity in copious amounts will be ignored, overlooked, or squandered.
How can you develop a matching funds facade grant program like the one in Sapulpa if your city government is wholly convinced such endeavors are a waste of time as well as money? How do you convince city government that revitalizing a blighted historic district will pay bigger dividends for the community than providing incentives for a Walmart to move into town?
So, what is the antidote for community apathy? How do you roll back years and decades of hyped dreams that never became manifest? How do address an embedded legacy of inept self serving leadership that never delivers on promises made?
Fortunately, if you live in a community along Route 66, you have a tremendous advantage. There is ample hard evidence available that will magnify your endeavors.
Regardless, if I were to hazard a guess as to where to begin, the first step would be the formation of serious, thick skinned, nothing to loose neighborhood partnerships at the most basic level. I am talking you help me paint my fence and I will help you paint yours.
Community education would share the top spot for priorities. Apathy, like weeds, needs to be taken out by the roots.
Step one, educate yourself. Step two, educate your friends. Find knowledgeable speakers to address your local civic organizations, read, use the internet, reach out to community leaders in towns that have overcome apathy with visionary and inspirational leadership.
Be prepared to address every manifestation of apathy, be it in letters to the editor or at city council meetings with simple, direct, practical, and proven plans of action. Counter passionate presentations about why the city can’t do something with passionate but respectful reasons why they can.
Even though it will most likely result in the casting of aspersions, in public and in private, and, perhaps outright name calling, don’t be afraid to call in reinforcements from outside the community. If your seriously looking to see your community transformed, the concept of a popularity contest cannot enter into the equation.
Even if they are not residents, if they are knowledgeable on issues ask friends to write letters to the editor, or even to city officials. Use your neighborhood partnerships to create larger neighborhood partnerships, and then apply the pressure of public opinion to elected officials.
After this the work begins.
Okay, where am I in this you may ask? Well, I am still in the fight even though there have been countless opportunities where thoughts turned toward pulling stakes.
Do we still think about cutting losses, finding a place where the corner has been turned, and then jumping in to help build a community? Well, ask me again after the 2014 Route 66 International Festival in August, or take a chance and give me a call if your hiring.