Where’s Your Community Pride?
Getting people to rally around their town, big or small, isn’t as easy as it used to be.
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. I’m not dissing Applebee’s – but it’s not necessarily a place most of us are excited to take our friends who are just visiting.
Where 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 the way 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.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock / ProStockStudio
Ready to start? Here’s your to-do list:
1. Take pride in your appearance.
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 actually be a lovable place. And that often starts with the scenery. Are weeds lining your main street? Or flowers? Community cleanups, weed-pulling sessions and more allow everyone to contribute. Everybody can see and experience how small changes can improve their place.
2. Own it.
Whether it’s owning a home or a business, people take pride in things they work hard to achieve. 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.
3. Get people talking, sharing and caring.
Working hand-in-hand with ownership is engagement. 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. A campaign that rallies people around your community can help generate 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 and tagline that you can put on shirts and signs. Give the people in the community something that they can follow and champion.
Your brand can help unify your community and this gives people the means to support you. When doing this, think one community. This isn’t the chamber’s logo, the town seal or 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 be rebuilt 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. Let’s go!