What makes a successful community?
I’ve used this quote before, but it bears repeating. Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Building a successful community rarely happens by accident. It always involves a change in thinking. It takes consistent effort coupled with effective strategies employed by the entire community to determine your ultimate success. Every community will have a different recipe for success. Many of the best recipes contain several of the same ingredients. The same applies to successful communities. What are some of the common ingredients?
Local influencers are a huge part of successful communities and can come from many corners of the community. These influencers are usually looked up to and well respected. These influencers need not be political leaders, although that is often the case. They might have created a successful business. They might have held public office and have done a great job. They might have led a community project through a civic club that made a huge impact, and the list goes on. It takes leadership to succeed and this is one ingredient that is a must, regardless of the size of your community.
Understanding of history is a less commonly thought of ingredient. A communitywide understanding of its roots and heritage builds muchneeded pride and purpose that then turns into great effort and subsequent results. By understanding your heritage, the expectation of paying that heritage forward for future generations becomes magnified. Some might call this a strategic vision, using the past to build a firm foundation for the future.
Vibrant downtowns are a must. I know of no successful community that lacks this ingredient. Successful and forwardthinking communities across the country are pouring resources into their downtowns. This need not always initially be direct financial support, although financial support is critical and will be needed at some point. One of the tangibles a community can offer is the simple process of waiving permit fees or power hook-up charges. Another might include certain tax incentives and relief. It might mean some extra attention to street and area cleanup and upkeep. A big help would be modifying building codes so that building owners are forced to maintain old and empty buildings. There is nothing that destroys the momentum of your downtown revitalization efforts than old, unkept, abandoned buildings.
Synergies and partnerships can take many forms. Residents working together on cleanup initiatives are a great start. Civic clubs working together to rehab a building build a sense of community. Chambers working with the local media company to provide vehicles and programs for businesses to flourish generate new tax revenue. On a grander scale, it can be the city working with private businesses, pooling their funds and resources to restore or complete large real estate or tourism-generating projects. The most successful communities have all the above in place and much more.
Vibrant media support is critical. This is one of the most neglected pieces of success. A local newsmedia company can inform, educate, encourage and promote your efforts. When the local media adopts the truly local DNA mission, you will see progress. It can communicate with local influencers. It must educate the community on its proud history and heritage. It must bring attention to your downtown area of the community. It must report on, encourage and even enter numerous partnerships that build communitywide synergies. Without a willing media partner, while still possible, your success odds are reduced. Many communities may not have a reliable media outlet. In this case, an opportunity has presented itself. Hopefully, a chamber or other entity will step up and fill that void.
A strategic business mix is critical. Successful communities will have a variety of locally-owned businesses that provide the ambiance, the experiences, the taste and the desire for a wide number of interests. Great restaurants, breweries, unique shopping opportunities and so forth are a must. Don’t destroy this with chains and big boxes in your tourist or downtown areas. No tourist will travel any great distance to see more chains and big boxes — be unique and stand out.
There are many other ingredients to creating a vibrant and desirable community; the above are only a few of the musthave components that expedite your success. If you are missing any of the above, don’t give up. Just look around your community and start trying to determine how you can start bringing these ingredients of success to your community.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Take that step and make it happen.
John Newby is a nationally-recognized publisher, community, chamber, business and media strategy consultant and speaker. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street” column runs in more than 60 communities around the country. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists leaders, businesses and media in building synergies and creating more vibrant communities. He can be reached at info@Truly-Localllc.com.