Healthy communities know how to evolve
WASAGA BEACH – If you want to kill your community, you should live in the past, grow complacent and reject everything new.
You should never take responsibility, and you should ignore outsiders, disengage youth and shut out seniors. Don’t even give them housing.
Don’t forget to dissuade new businesses, put off painting your town and make sure you always shop out of town.
Also, never co-operate with others, and be sure deceive yourself into thinking your town is the best place to live.
And forget about water quality and quantity.
That way you can have the dead town all to yourself.
So said Doug Griffiths, the author of 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, to a crowd of about 225 people at the Wasaga RecPlex Monday night.
Griffiths was sponsored to speak by the mayors of Wasaga Beach, Clearview and Springwater – Brian Smith, Christopher Vanderkruys and Bill French, respectively.
“This is meant to open your eyes. None of us are exempt from this,” Griffiths said in his opening address.
Griffiths knows about dead towns as he hails from the forgotten prairie town of Coronation, Alta. But later, to his utter surprise, he discovered a new family from Japan found the flat land with the distant horizon fascinating. They spent hours watching gophers Griffiths meant to shoot, and hours more looking at combines and bison in awe.
“We never appreciate what we have until someone else appreciates it,” he said.
One of the keys to success is making the most of a community’s unique features because that’s what makes it memorable, he said.
Every municipality has an economic development plan, a strategic plan, a community improvement plan, but many are generic – just John Does in the morgue – he said.
“It’s beautiful here. The rest of the world would love to have this potential.”
Griffiths couldn’t overstate the importance of having a source of quality drinking water in a large enough quantity for its citizens and needed uses.
“You can only live three days without water. You can’t do agriculture without water. Tourism happens so much easier when you are closer to water,” he said.
Competition is good for business because it creates better prices, quality, selection and service, and people will drive to get it, Griffiths said.
“Don’t attract business and you can have a monopoly of failure.”
When Griffiths was growing up, he understood poor kids stayed at home to farm, money seekers headed out to the oil fields and smart kids left for university.
“If you want to kill your community, send the young people away and tell them never to come back.
“The key to success is to let them go explore and give them a reason to come back,” he said, citing an example of free housing for someone who sets up a dental practice.
In his travels across Canada, Griffiths has come across 54 communities that have the motto “The best place to work, live and raise a family.”
Communities deceive themselves into thinking this, when many are not welcoming to newcomers, he said.
A small community that not only announced itself through advertising but also went abroad and held seminars to welcome people attracted 11 new families, 10 of which opened new businesses.
“Every chamber of commerce in the free world says 'shop locally,' but people continue to 'shop elsewhere' for a variety of reasons including jealousy of success of their neighbours,” he said, adding people need to realize successful neighbours with successful businesses means jobs are created, and that boosts the community.
An esthetically appealing shop or downtown will attract business, as superficial as it may seem, said Griffiths.
“It’s programmed into our DNA.
“Don’t paint. Don’t beautify. Give the illusion that your town is dying,” he advised, tongue firmly in cheek.
Towns that don’t co-operate with one another over possible new development delay that development or don’t get it all, said Griffiths, as today’s political and business leaders are looking to place new hospitals and new businesses in regions that work together.
“Even golf courses are changing. People want to play five courses in a five-day tour, not one course,” he said.
People who live in the past do damage to their communities by fighting projects that could reinvigorate their town.
He said they come in five forms: NIMBY (not in my backyard), BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), NOPE (not on Planet Earth), CAVE (citizens against virtually everything) and FEAR (fire up everyone against reasonable solutions).
The first four are frustrated, but the fifth group is dangerous because they are “tactical,” said Griffiths.
Communities should shut out seniors because “they are dangerous. They build communities with their bare hands,” said Griffiths.
Yes, they travel and go to Florida, but they come back and “constitute a huge volunteer base.”
They also have money and spend it for a quality of life. Anyone who doesn’t believe this doesn’t think Phoenix, Ariz., exists, he said.
Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If people want to make a stronger, more vibrant community, they have to try new things.
People who move pick their community on purpose, and embracing newcomers rather than ignoring them, or worse, can bring needed vitality to towns, said Griffiths.
Many people move to Canada to access high-quality education that isn’t available where they came from, and they are willing to work hard for it, he said.
“Outsiders appreciate your country.”
The word sustainable (except for use in biology) should be stricken from the English language, he said. What it really means is complacency.
“They don’t want sustainable. They want the status quo,” he said.
Alternatively, municipalities should be using the strategy of vibrancy and aggression when attracting new business.
The success of a town is due of the efforts of its citizens who take responsibility for making things happen.
“Ultimately, the success of your community is up to you and you and you,” he said, pointing to people in the audience.
“Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”