Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What comes after Christmas?

Come the day after Halloween (or maybe it’s July 5th now), the telltale signs of the impending holiday season appear. The twinkle of Christmas lights adorn easy to assemble trees in the recesses of cavernous retail outlets. A few acquaintances may even begin a countdown to the big day when the pleasantly plump herald of holiday cheer sneaks into our homes delivering gratification wrapped in paper decked with bows. After Thanksgiving we collectively kick it into high gear. Fueled by familiar holiday tunes and rituals we are ripe with anticipation for the culmination of the holiday season. Like any good story, our climax is followed by the final event of the season in which we celebrate the “passing” of the year and knowing that with the final stroke of midnight all that may have ailed us in the previous year has been relegated to history.

Then comes January 2nd. Apparently we’ve arrived not at the end but the beginning. A new 365 day season of expectations and benchmarks lay before us. Where must we go from here? Let that question parallel the same issue facing many communities when it comes the act of revitalizing the places we call “home”. What direction must a community take once the roads have been sufficiently widened? Once the big box has delivered untold fortunes of sales tax? Once new homes that reflect the modern American dream have been constructed? What is the next step?

The fact that we ask this question points to the shortcomings of a common approach. “Where must we go from here?” is an essential part of the identity that defines the largest of metropolises and smallest of villages. It’s part of the story which tells us where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going. However, when it comes to reviving struggling places, it’s these questions which all too often are overlooked. The absence, not of answers but of the questions, demonstrates an all or nothing approach where resources are solely dedicated to singular paradigms. It’s not that different than cashing out a retirement plan to invest in lottery tickets with the hopes that the big gamble will pay off.

Let communities ask themselves the question, “what is the end goal”? Assuming that upgraded roadways, dedicated turn lanes, and ample parking are the foundation, what is the larger plan? Will the presence of a new entrepreneurial generation do anything to stem the tide of Amazon deliveries or will they to be doomed to wither away in the face of a global economy? Communities must balance the pressures of modernity with realization of their own mortality. After all, given the temporary nature and design standards of modern development, how will the presence of amenities ensure the future prosperity of a community? Maintaining relevancy in the future will require a clearly articulated vision, which provides definition to terms like “growth” and “progress”. For when left to interpretation by the masses, these terms may be used perversely by interests counter to that of community.

Building great places, befitting of being called “home” isn’t an easy process. It’s not a process that can be defined, because each community has it’s own story to tell, it’s own ambitions, it’s own expectations, and it’s own priorities. What’s apparent, however, is that communities hanging on by a thread would be wise to reconsider putting all of the eggs in one basket. Ultimately questions that many are often left pondering, may be more appropriately suited to be the drivers of the process than it’s residual.