A quick visit is all it takes to tell if a town or village is
possessed of a sense of community, is progressive and forward thinking, and if it has a vision for the future, or if it is riddled with apathy, indifference, self serving factions, and leadership focused on the rear view mirror. Take a drive through town, hit the historic business district, and then take a couple of laps through neighborhoods. Skip the fast food joints and stop at a local diner or tavern, be a fly on the wall and listen. Pick up a local paper (or read the on line edition) and be sure to read the editorials as well as the comments.
Today’s post isn’t meant as condemnation. It is a bit of a soapbox sermon inspired by thoughts and reflections as I gear up for this mornings conference call with the Route 66: Road Ahead Partnership economic development committee. It is also an expression of frustration.
As many of you know, my dearest friend and I call Kingman, Arizona home. Located at the heart of a wonderland of vast and diverse landscapes, and at the center of the longest remaining uninterrupted segment of Route 66, the town has, perhaps, the greatest undeveloped tourism potential of any community in the southwest. This boundless opportunity is magnified by a location on the western edge of the “Grand Circle” that is the premier destination in the southwest, and the fact that within 400 miles of Kingman there are ten million people with interest in mountain biking, camping, spelunking, fine dining, off road exploration, wineries, colorful festivals, ghost towns, museums, white water rafting, classic car events, Native American culture, the Grand Canyon, and hiking along shade dappled trails.
Through the hard work and investment of people with vision, the historic business district is coming back to life. Microbreweries and restaurants, eclectic shops such as Southwest Trading Company, and neon signs restored through partnerships with the Route 66 Association of Kingman, business owners, and Legacy Signs, give the area a palpable sense of vibrancy. There is a core of community minded people that organize events such as Chillin’ on Beale, and people with an eye on the future like Steve LeSueur of MyMarketing Designs that launched the Promote Kingman initiative. In spite of these valiant efforts, in spite of the boundless opportunity Kingman is not a destination. It is a stop on the way to anyplace else.
As I have learned through recent travels, meetings with tourism and economic development directors in various communities, and questions asked during presentations I made on tourism as a component in economic development, apathy and indifference will always trump opportunity and overwhelm potential. Simply put, you can’t plant burs and thistles and expect to harvest tomatoes or watermelons.
At presentations in Joliet, Las Vegas, New Mexico and other communities during the October trip, I encouraged people to explore their community as though they were a first time visitor. In Kingman, I often do this vicariously through walking tours, dinners with tour groups, and other interaction with travelers that allow me to see it fresh through their eyes.
The city has an outstanding visitor center that also houses two gift shops, an award winning Route 66 museum, and the world’s only electric vehicle museum, and no WiFi. I often hear people ask about availability only to be told that if the service is needed, perhaps they should try the restaurants or shops downtown. The electric vehicle museum is small but interesting, but almost void of excitement, almost as though the cars were being stored rather than displayed even though it opened in 2014. More than a few of my repeat customers have noted a rare electric 1990’s Chevrolet S10 truck is sitting in the parking lot outside, just as it has for more than a year.
In 2014, during the Route 66 International Festival, the Route 66 walk of fame debuted. The project received international media attention, and for a brief time was a promising attraction for Route 66 enthusiasts from throughout the world. It was never developed, and in 2017 the inquiries that I received about it were almost zero. Apathy and indifference have trumped opportunity.
While it may appear that I am targeting Kingman, in actuality it is being used as as an example. The communities that successfully harness tourism, especially that associated with the Route 66 renaissance, as a catalyst for revitalization and economic development are quite rare. Kingman is the rule, not the exception. Kingman, as noted, is not the only community plagued by this malady. It is actually in good company.
So, how you may ask, do you break the stranglehold of indifference and apathy in your community? How do you tackle this monster and not frustrate yourself to the point of packing it in and finding a new place to call home? For me it is playing a role in fostering a sense of community and community purpose, and creating awareness about what makes the town special. That was the genesis of the weekly Facebook live program that has introduced me, and the community, to some pretty amazing people.
However, it was the recent on screen/off screen conversation with Tim Woods during the weekly Facebook live program, and pondering about the pending economic development conference call that really set me to thinking deep and hard. Kingman, like so many communities, is a pretty special place. The problem is that not enough people realize it.
What role are you playing in the battle against indifference and apathy in your community?