Every community is plagued by self serving factions, apathy, naysayers, and
people who simply never learned to play well with others. In communities where these people dominate government or the tourism office or media or civic organizations, opportunities are missed, long term sustainable progress is stifled, and vision for the future is conceived through extensive study of the rear view mirror. Spend an hour or two in a town, city, or village where these type of folks run the show, listen to the locals in the restaurants or taverns, check out the historic business district, cruise a few neighborhoods, peruse online reviews of businesses and there is a very good chance you won’t make a return visit.
So, exactly, how is a community transformed from a haven for the apathetic and people obsessed with protecting their fiefdom into a vibrant place where people want to visit, to open businesses, to raise families, and to retire? Let me introduce you to the speed bump theory of community development. Breaking the strangle hold of factions or apathy begins with a groundswell of frustration, most often at the grassroots level, coupled with an event that sparks an awareness of the communities potential. Organizations are then formed to address perceived shortcomings, hindrances to development, or unnecessary restrictions. More often than not these well intended organizations devolve into tea parties or therapy sessions where frustrated people gather to vent. At some point one organization with take a leadership position by building coalitions and partnerships. The other organizations will join as a network of cooperative partnerships or they will be rendered irrelevant and wither on the vine. A few, however, will resent the usurping of leadership. These groups will often magnify or create problems, deftly attempt to present their organization as the only one capable of affecting resolution, and lead fights against any project that does not originate with them.
These is where the speed bump analogy comes into play. The organization taking point, and those that create a network of cooperative partnerships will tackle problems be they city regulation, factions, or organizations led by people that don’t play well with others as speed bumps, an obstacle that requires going over or around.
In Kingman, the event that sparked an awareness of the towns potential as a destination for visitors as well as new residents was the 2014 Route 66 International Festival. People attended from more than five countries, and thirty states. An arrangement for the creation of the world’s first electric vehicle museum was facilitated with the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation. The Route 66 Walk of Fame was established. The first ever international conference on Route 66 development with representatives from Route 66 associations in Europe, and mayors, economic development directors, and tourism directors from a number of Route 66 communities making presentations was broadcast live via YouTube.
The seeds for the current crop of cooperative partnerships that are transforming the community were sown at this event. After initial announcement was made that Kingman would host the event, the original organizers withdrew citing time constraints and schedule constriction, the state Route 66 association declined an invitation to develop the event as they felt it would infringe on existent festival. Tourism claimed they were to short staffed to lead development, and that their budget was already allocated. The chamber of commerce took control of the events development but imploded shortly afterward with the resignation of the director. That left but one option, a grassroots coalition.
Fast forward to spring 2017. The Promote Kingman initiative is building a diverse array of partners as well as international awareness about the city through innovative programs that blend social media campaigns, such as a Facebook live community programs, and website with traditional community development projects such as a monthly open house at member business. Through the initiative, the scope and potential reach of projects such as those developed by the Route 66 Association of Kingman or the chamber of commerce are magnified and amplified.
Partnerships are being facilitated for the creation of public art projects, including murals that are adding color and vibrancy to the historic business district as well as the Route 66 corridor. Neon signs are being restored, reproduced, or created. Groups such as the Kingman Progressive Alliance for Positive Change have formed to provide a forum for discussions about community revitalization.
An excellent example of how these partnerships and grassroots initiatives are transforming Kingman occurred on the evening of May 16. The Route 66 Association of Kingman and the Promote Kingman initiative, in partnership with the owners and manager of The Grand Event Center, hosted a reception for a Route 66 tour developed by Netherlands based US Bikers led by Dries Bessels, chairman of the Dutch Route 66 Association. Route 66 Cruizers, a local car club with a long record of community service, served as a taxi service for the group of motorcyclists. The result was another event that fostered development of a sense of community, provided visitors with a unique and memorable experience, and another opportunity to promote Kingman, internationally, as a destination.
Over the course of the past few years, the changes in the historic business district, and along the Route 66 corridor has been quite dramatic. However, perhaps, the most exciting development is being made manifest in a tangible sense of excitement, a vibrancy and enthusiasm that is being manifest in new businesses, murals, events, and the difficulty of finding a seat at some of the sidewalk cafes and breweries.
Now, perhaps, the time has come to move the electric vehicle museum to the next stage, revive the dormant walk of fame initiative, or loudly proclaim that Kingman IS a destination.