Why do some small towns 'go ahead' and others lag - or die?

I have (generally) found that people in small towns and rural communities fall into one of four categories.

  • Those who are positive, collaborative and open, and are taking steps to help their community develop and grow.

  • Those who are friendly and collaborative and want their town to ‘go ahead’. But they are waiting for someone else to take charge. Usually it’s the government, sometimes it’s a ‘hero’.

  • Those who are taking steps to help their town develop, but resist new people and ideas.

  • Those who constantly complain, and criticise / blame everyone, especially the government. They expect handouts and become angry if their ‘fair share’ is not received.

THE SAVIOUR PARADOX

Until 12 months ago, I simply did not (and refused) to accept that the buck stopped with me.

For an entire year, I’d drive 140 kilometres to and from work with this terrible sensation that I was trapped. I had no idea how to escape and was desperately waiting for an answer to rescue me.

In the weeks after last September’s accident, I came to realise that whilst I may not be in full control of my life (because shit happens), I needed to stop giving my agency and power to other people, places and things. Bit by bit, on my long country drives I’d delve deep into myself, hungry to find the answer. Little by little, I found a rock. I attached like a barnacle and asked myself ‘how do I get the heck out of Dodge?’. By no means was this path of self-inquiry easy. It was confronting. Eventually I came to see the anchor. Inside, I found the power to make better decisions and save myself.

Within a matter of weeks, I quit my job and started Spark Rural.

The curious thing is, just as I’ve witnessed the Saviour Paradox in myself, I’ve seen it in country towns. Do any of these phrases sound familiar?

  • Someone really needs to do something about “insert anything here”.

  • Why has our town not gone ahead like Town X or Town Y? “

  • I wish we could make our town great again, just like it was in the past *sign*

  • Towns x,y and z get all the attention and money. No one cares about us.

  • People are prejudiced against our town.

Each time I hear these phrases (or variations of), I want to self-implode.  

Who the heck is ‘someone’? Who are ‘they’? And why the bleep are they responsible for your problems?

As Becky McCray of www.SaveYour.Town says, you can either be idea friendly and start the long (and creative) journey to renewal. Or, you can do nothing. Over an even longer period of time, you can watch the heartbreaking decline of your town.

WHY TOWNS GO AHEAD

Small towns go ahead because enough people who live in them decide they will.

Community members put skin in the game.  Money. Their reputation. Time. They stand up for what they believe in and are willing to cop criticism.

I’d love to say that towns go ahead because everyone works together, but often it’s not the case.

This is real life. Some people like each other, some do not. Some towns are diverse, some have fluctuating or transitory populations. Some towns are remote, some are super tiny. Every town is different, so everyone will work in different ways.

This is what I’ve witnessed over the last 10 months

Change happens because bold individuals or groups of people (large and small) get out there and have a crack. They keep on going in the face of criticism and build a tribe. Over time, more and more people are ‘won over’. In the start up world, they call this the law of diffusion of innovation.

I believe that there is a purpose and message inside us all. Each one of us is here to use our skills and passions for the greater good. Imagine if we were able to unleash that in every person, across regional Australia. Imagine the change in our towns and communities. City people would be beating down our doors, desperate to come in!

Rest assured, small towns aren’t alone and don’t have to do it all themselves.

There are people, partners and stakeholders who want to lend a hand. They won’t always be able to give what you want, but they are there to help.

Unfortunately, no-one, and especially not the government, is coming to save you.

Part of being an adult is taking full responsibility. It’s can be overwhelming confronting this reality. But it’s not as hard as you think.

As late author Sara Henderson says, the strength is within us all.  If one small town can go ahead, then so can yours. Believe change is possible. Believe that you deserve to live in a good and prosperous place. Believe that it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Just as Sara said, ‘don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel. Stride down there and light the bloody thing yourself!’

Of course the path isn’t easy. But, really, what is the alternative?