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How to Destroy a Community in 5 Simple Steps

15 January 2024

I have spent years writing about how to revitalize and increase the vibrancy within a community. This week, I want to concentrate on what not to do and provide five simple steps a community can take to assure they fail and continue down the path towards irrelevancy. 


Never in the history of mankind, have we been so blessed with so much information, but seem to know so little.  I can’t even begin to count the number of times people have questioned why they didn’t know of an event that happened   locally, until the event was over. It used to be everyone knew what was going on because they had a local media company that everyone pointed to for this information, both good and bad. They were the community information hub or informational town square if you will.


The first step in assuring failure is to ignore the importance local media plays in your community. Granted, many local media companies have abandoned their role in the community. But regardless of the situation, if they aren’t convinced to reassume this role, or another entity such as a chamber, local leadership team or doesn’t step up, the community will fail to reach its full potential as lack of communication will sink most ships. 


Make no mistake, local media plays a crucial role in fostering community cohesion by informing residents about local issues, events, and opportunities. Neglecting local media in favor of exclusive reliance on social media platforms may result in misinformation and a lack of awareness about critical community matters. Social media, while a valuable tool, should not replace the role of local journalism in holding authorities accountable and providing accurate, in-depth reporting on community affairs.


The second step in assuring failure is to have a lack of zoning and permitting.  The zoning and permitting processes are vital for organized development. Without proper zoning discussions, communities’ risk haphazard construction and incompatible land use, leading to congestion, reduced property values, and decreased quality of life. The absence of a permitting process can result in unregulated development, potentially compromising safety standards and environmental sustainability. Proper permits ensure that structures adhere to safety codes, protecting residents and the community's overall well-being.


The third step in promoting failure as a community is the lack of respect for property rights.  Ineffective regulations and lack of enforcement against slumlords and trash generating lots will lead to the deterioration of housing quality, negatively impacting residents' health and safety.  Failure to address neglect and substandard living conditions can create a cycle of poverty and despair within the community, discouraging investment and fostering a sense of hopelessness among residents.


The fourth step towards failure is the lack of encouragement to shop and spend locally. Supporting local businesses is essential for the economic vitality of a community. When residents consistently choose online retailers over local businesses, it drains resources from the local economy and contributes to the decline of small businesses.  Local businesses are often the backbone of a community, providing employment opportunities, contributing to the tax base, and fostering a unique community identity. Neglecting to educate residents on the importance of supporting local businesses can lead to a weakened economic foundation.


The fifth step is one many may not think about often, that is the lack of civic engagement. Communities with low voter turnout are a community full of people that have given up, or just plain don’t care. I have often said that you can measure the strength and resolve of a community by the voter turnout. Low voter turnout means the residents are not engaged, the residents feel they can’t make a difference, the residents are just fed-up, and/or the residents have no faith in the leadership. Do you want to lift your community out of poverty or take it to another level? If that is the case, leaders need to instill hope, they need to instill a sense of pride, belonging and being heard. Bottom-line, they need to reignite the love and passion that people use to have towards their community.


There is a small dose of irony in these 5 steps that lead to failure for a community. That irony is that by addressing these aspects, this will be the quickest way for communities to turn the tide and build a strong foundation for growth, resilience, and a high quality of life for all residents. There is no better time than now to start that journey!


John Newby is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Chambers, Communities, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column appears in 60+ newspapers and media outlets. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists chambers, communities, media, and businesses in creating synergies that build vibrant communities. He can be reached at: John@Truly-Local.org.