13 things to save communities


It was a setup of course. My editor suggested reading and doing a review of “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” probably thinking I’d pick up the bait. And he was right. Editors always are.

The book is written by Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer, both from Alberta. Griffiths is an MLA and Clemmer is a journalist, and both have a lot of experience with small communities—Griffiths alone claims to have visited most of Alberta’s 422 communities.

So what’s their take on the best way to kill a community? First is bad drinking water. It seems so obvious, but water issues drive people away, especially those people who can afford to leave. Many people around St. Stephen can recall a time when the water supply from Dennis Stream was compromised, and many still might question the amount of chlorine being used to treat the water there. St. Andrews has also had its concerns, first with the threat of arsenic from the Bayside quarry tailings, and more recently with biological blooms in Lake Chamcook this summer. Thankfully, our local administrators are on top of protecting our local water supply.

The top 13 bad things are worth reviewing. Here are the rest:

2. Don’t attract business
3. Ignore youth
4. Overlook needs/values
5. Shop elsewhere
6. Don’t paint
7. Don’t cooperate
8. Live in the past
9. Ignore seniors
10. Reject everything new
11. Ignore outsiders
12. Be complacent
13. Don’t take responsibility.

Having been in economic and business development here in the region—and as one of those ‘outsiders,’ I can say that I’ve witnessed some of these negative practices firsthand. When one approaches these shortcomings, the first response in our communities is usually denial, or shooting the messenger, but I’m sure that’s the case everywhere.

Running down the list, as a kind of report card, how do we fare?

Well, I don’t think that this region is particularly good at attracting new business. Sure, there are a new Sobey’s and Kent stores in St. Stephen, and a couple of new restaurants in St. Andrews. But overall, the county seems to be in an economic holding pattern; the region’s population and economy is not growing.

Sometimes the place is openly anti-business. I personally witnessed an elected local official torpedo a provincial road project that would have given new life to a local gas station. And local businesses are competition-adverse, even though increasing competition has been proven to benefit everyone.

Does the region ignore its youth? At first glance, no. There’s a good Boys and Girls Club in St. Stephen and a new youth centre in St. Andrews, and new facilities being built on Grand Manan. But pull back the curtain and we see that kids here are compromised. Drug use among students is common, the courts are full of youth offences, and many kids see their own limited futures here, and give up early.

This ties into overlooking real needs and values. What are the local needs and values? Do we need more civic centres, or something else? Do our kids need more places to play? Or do they need more access to part-time jobs, mentoring, personal creative projects and summer jobs to pave their way to college? I think of all the threats to our communities, this might be the greatest.

I would say that Charlotte County folks are reasonably good at shopping locally, and I’ve experienced more loyalty to local stores than I have elsewhere. So kudos, I hope. And we’re reasonably good at keeping things painted and looking attractive.

The biggest threat of all, in my mind, is #7 lack of cooperation, especially when combined with #10 ignoring outsiders and #11 rejecting everything new. I would give a failing report on all three. Gassing partners, as the Town of St. Andrews did to their local chamber of commerce over the operation of the tourist bureau, leaves long-lasting and unnecessary wounds that take years to heal. This is definitely not a region that is open to anything new, especially when it comes from outsiders—unless there’s a promise of big cash.

As for the rest, I DO think we live in the past, we DON’T ignore seniors (who are a large power block here), and I think we ARE complacent for those two reasons. In summary, I think Charlotte County doesn’t like the future—and it avoids taking collective responsibility for it, even though we all seem to be responsible people on the surface.

So check it out. It’s a great book, though I’d add a few ideas of my own that I’ve seen make things worse. Such as:

1. Copy from the worst
2. Take anything
3. Work without a strategy
4. Hire managers, not visionaries
5. Practice cronyism and nepotism
6. Hide behind closed door policies
7. Cave in on any issue
8. Keep electing the same people
9. Gang up on adversaries
10. Ignore criticism
11. White knuckle your grip on power.

So how can we save our communities (as I promised in the headline)? We might stop actively killing them. And start by reading the book.

Until then, I’m sure we’ll find more distractions to keep us from solving the real problems.


Popular Posts