Getting people to rally around their town, big or small, isn’t as easy as it used to be.
By Jeff Siegler
Do you love where you live? Do you get excited to welcome people into your town or community? What spaces do you take them to visit?
I’m not talking about going to the big metropolis near you – heading downtown to see an MLB game – but your actual small town. For city planners and advocates, this question is a big one. Pride is not always apparent in today’s communities where mega retailers and chain restaurants have replaced the local haunts. While those places have their value, it can be trouble when you’re trying to foster a sense of community pride.
Why? Because when excitement fades, apathy comes into the picture. And, I’m here to tell you, apathy is the curse of the small town. In fact, it can be devastating and the places that people once cared about become a distant memory.
Not everything in our past bears repeating, yet when I think about how small towns used to be, I get frustrated. They have faded into the background or blended into one strip mall after another. There are thousands of communities struggling with their own decline. It’s why I started Revitalize, or Die. – to help communities find themselves and to empower them to fight the apathy.
Ready? Here’s what you’re going to need to do:
1. Take pride in your community’s appearance.
Community pride doesn’t happen on accident. You have to really put in the effort on all fronts to combat apathy and cultivate pride. When people start to take pride in their town, everything changes. For people to love where they live, it has to be a lovable place. It might seem shallow, but that often starts with the scenery. Are weeds lining your main street? Or flowers? Activate your community to do the following
- Community cleanups
- Weed-pulling sessions
- Recycling drives
Allowing everyone to contribute has dual outcomes. Your place looks revitalized AND folks feel invested because they put the time in. Everybody can see and experience how small changes can improve their place. More on that in a second.
2. Increase ownership in your community
Whether it’s owning a home or a business, people take pride in things they work hard to achieve, your place is no different. As commerce shifts away from local hands to big box retail and chain restaurants, it gets harder to foster this pride in ownership. To feel pride, you have to have a stake in something. Encouraging local businesses and local ownership stirs this kind of pride in people. If they’re invested, they are in it to win it.
3. Get people talking, sharing and caring about your community.
Working hand-in-hand with ownership is engagement. Engagement drives good feelings about your community. People want to be heard and respected. When people have a voice in the community and feel their ideas are welcomed, they take pride in that. Be sure to foster community engagement sessions when and where you can. People are hardwired to want to experience pride, so give them the opportunity to voice their ideas in ways that can make a difference.
4. Build up your brand.
This is a bigger one than you might think – and one that a lot of communities overlook. Your image looms large and your brand is your image in motion — one that can rally people around your community, generating pride to tackle the apathy.
Building and supporting your “brand” can help the people who live in your community speak a common language that brings you recognition. Think about it: people need something they can put a label on. It’s why sports teams do so well: they have team colors, team chants, events that bring people together. Creating and building your town’s brand is just as important.
Decades ago, New York City sold T-shirts that read I (heart) New York. Cleveland, Kansas City and other big cities rally around their abbreviations and area codes – with Kansas City hosting an unofficial 816 Day every August 16.
My suggestion is to start with a community pride campaign that’s authentic to your place. It’s okay to be boastful. The goal here is pride, after all. Develop messaging that resonates with your audiences and rallies them around a shared vision or opportunity. Create a logo athat you can put on shirts and signs. Give the people in the community something that can follow and champion.
Your brand can help unify your community, and this gives people the means to support you. When doing this, think of one community. This isn’t the chamber’s logo, the town seal, or the high school mascot. It’s one consistent and buildable identifier. It’s something that stays with you, that you support and build. And it can start now (while you work on items 1 through 3!).
Community pride didn’t erode overnight – and it won’t rebuild overnight either. Our cities will be rebuilt just as they were originally built: one building at a time, one business at a time, by one family at a time. It starts today.
Let’s do this.
Jeff has assisted hundreds of communities with their revitalization, economic sustainability, and community development over the course of his career. Utilizing a background in urban planning, downtown district management, revitalization, real estate, economics and organizational development, his diverse background and expertise lends a unique vantage point for addressing community concerns.
What Jeff lacks in patience and eloquence, he makes up for in passion and honesty.
He believes revitalizing communities is the most important work we can do. Revitalization has the power to transform people’s lives by fostering a stronger sense of community. Revitalization enhances quality of life, it provides people with more enriching experiences, and Jeff has dedicated himself to killing apathy- one town at a time.
Visit Jeff at: https://revitalizeordie.com/
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