29 PARADISE LANE
One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to meet so many people from various communities and hear their stories. I hear stories of what use to be, about the hustle and bustle of their once great thriving downtowns. I am reminded of a quote by Unita Blackwell when she said, “To make a small town achieve its potential, you need everybody. When a blind person carries a crippled person who can see, both get where they're going.” This is the season of the year where we are reminded of what once was, and what can be again.
Our downtowns use to the heartbeat of every community. This was where people gathered, made new friends, went shopping, hung out together, exchanged information and in general – gathered as a community. They were the hub or centerpiece of the community and the place where dreams were built.
Unfortunately, with so many communities, those days of vibrant atmospheres are gone. But must that be the case? Must we settle for not knowing our neighbors and not gathering as a community? Must our lot as a community be negated to loneliness and lack of information? Must we not gather as a community and share each other’s dreams, visions, passions, and pride? I believe many communities do rekindle that vibrant spirit from time to time without even realizing it or understanding what they have done.
While various activities occur in many communities throughout the year, this time of year tends to be a time when many towns have Christmas celebrations and parades. The town pulls together for an hour or two of gathering, watching the parade, and pulling together, even if it is for a small amount of time. Thousands come downtown to watch and celebrate; there is no care about lack of parking, they come anyway. There is no care about weather, they just dress for it. Friends, family, neighbors, and residents gather and celebrate. What if this could be the impetus to rekindling the past and bringing your community together more often? What if this was only a precursor to what could be?
Here is a suggestion. Instead of just having a parade similar to nearly every other community, what if your community turned that into a parade complete with an outdoor Christmas market, or better yet, a Christkindl market such as one the small town of Ottawa, IL. has. This attracts visitors from the entire region. What if various civic and/or church groups provided hot chocolate, apple cider, and snacks. What if your town had a light-up contest downtown such as Rochester, MI. where people travel to experience the grand lights. Be the town where every church has a grand nativity scene along with a map for people to drive around and view them all. Better yet, what if all the nativities were in or near downtown making it walkable? Maybe even have a live nativity many would love to see. Geneseo, IL. hosts their annual Christmas Walk each year highlighting their downtown with store owners dressing up in attire to match their yearly theme.
My point is simple, to reconstruct our downtowns today, maybe we need to revisit the past to take a few tips and draw a few clues. If local communities are to survive, they must draw on every event, every citizen, and every opportunity to make that vision come to life. Downtowns are vital to a community’s future - if they want a viable future. I am aware of towns such as Sachse, TX. buying land to create a downtown because they know the value of what a vibrant downtown brings to the entire community. In fact, dollars invested in downtowns return abut 30% ROI than dollars invested elsewhere in the community – there are few better projects to invest public and private dollars in than your downtown.
It is often said that history repeats itself. In the case of many of our small communities, that would be a great thing. Local communities must draw upon the strengths and traditions of the past, blending them with the power and potential of the future. Be bold, be creative, be decisive, be smart, and above be a community that pulls everyone together in a united and beneficial way. The future is yours, all you must do is reach out and claim it.
John Newby, from SW Missouri, is a nationally recognized Columnist, Speaker, & Publisher. He consults with Community, Business & Media. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” column is enjoyed by 60+ communities around the country. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists community and business leaders in building synergies that create vibrant communities. He can be reached at: info@Truly-Localllc.com