People judge books by their cover, and ugly books don’t get read, Griffiths said.
“It’s not superficial, we’re genetically encoded to be attracted to aesthetically-pleasing things,” he said.
The way a community looks sends a clear message about what it thinks of itself and whether it thinks it will be successful. Beautification efforts can’t be neglected, Griffiths said.
“You can have the greatest community on earth, but if it looks like you’re dying, no one will stop to talk to you,” he said. “It’s not superficial. It’s critical for growth.”
One day, a community of 3,000 decided it needed a new community hall for town events. And so, three community groups stood up and said, “we will build it,” and tried to race one another to build the hall first and put their name on it, Griffiths said.
The groups found themselves at odds, competing for the same donation dollars for a decade— and, in one instance, had even booked two separate fundraisers on the same night. No one showed up to either of the events, and needless to say, no new community hall was built in that decade, Griffiths said.
“People in the community finally said, ‘We’ve had it,’” he said.
The groups eventually saw the light and learned the power of co-operation. The hall was then built within a year.
“It’s a powerful tool when people co-operate,” Griffiths said.
Live in the past
“People don’t like physical changes to their environment,” Griffiths said.
That includes NIMBY (not in my backyard) homeowners in one community, who opposed a new affordable housing block on vacant land that had been tapped for that purpose for years.
And there are the NOPEs—Not On Planet Earth—people opposed to coal and oil sands in favour of solar and windmills, without wanting to learn about the technology and science being developed in those industries they opposed.
And there are also the CAVE people, Griffiths said, or Citizens Against Virtually Anything. These are people who turn out for that last consultation meeting just to register and say they’re opposed to whatever is being proposed, and little else.
“The world is changing and you have to change with it,” Griffiths said. “These people are the most dangerous, and growing in numbers and effectiveness.”
Shut out your seniors
Seniors are the people who helped build a community from the ground up, Griffiths said, recalling how as a young boy he helped hand tools to his grandpa while he building the town curling rink.
Seniors are more likely to be volunteers and spend money in a community, continuing to build its foundation in their old age, Griffiths said.
Communities must build a quality of life that involves seniors and their needs—don’t do that and watch them migrate away to cities that have made concentrated efforts to attract seniors instead.
“When they go, the foundation will go with them and your community will crumble,”Griffiths said.
Reject everything new
Small towns can be averse to new ideas. But those ideas more often than not inject new life in a community. Griffiths shared one anecdote of a family friend who hated travelling— a trip to Mexico made the friend ambivalent because he had literally never left sight of the town’s water tower. Now, that family friend travels all the time after being exposed to a new experience.
In another anecdote,Griffiths shared the story of an entrepreneur who studied small towns and all the quirky amenities and businesses on hand that made the towns a success. Then, he imported those amenities into communities that didn’t have them, becoming extremely successful himself in the process.
“We always get told to learn from other’s mistakes—learn from other people’s successes” Griffiths said.
“You don’t need to have something brand new. You just need to have something new to you.”
Ignore your outsiders
People choose to move to a community on purpose for any number of reasons— the climate, the environment, job opportunities, a competitive business advantage.
“They don’t know who did what to who in 1922, and they don’t care,” Griffiths said.
Outsiders, particularly immigrants, bring the opportunity to see things from new perspectives. That’s because they often don’t take our privileges for granted—whether it’s things as simple as hot water and gladly paying a water bill, while others complain about the water meters; or making sure to take advantage of their first chance vote while many others fail to use their two hours paid time off to do so; or working two jobs to give their kids the chance to go to university or college, Griffiths said.
“What do we do? We sit around and complain it’s too expensive when the cost of ignorance is a lot more than that,” Griffiths said.Outsiders bring ideas, appreciation, and an entrepreneurial spirit with them.Making outsiders feel like outsiders is sure to chase them away.
Complacency has a habit of spiralling and snowballing out of control, and the status quo can be more damaging than you think, Griffiths said.
“All it takes is one business to close.
That’s now 13 families unemployed in your community. That might cause them to leave, and now there are 13 less children in school,” Griffiths said.
“That might be just enough to cause another business to close.
That’s now another 13 families unemployed in your community, 13 less students in your school, 13 less volunteers.”
Communities must plan for succession, making sure there’s always something or someone waiting in the wings to take over, whether that’s organizing the rodeo, the fall fair, the Christmas play from that one long-time volunteer who finally dies after taking it all upon themselves.
“The success of a community is more of a baton race, than a sprint or marathon,
’ Griffiths said.
“You run your leg of the race as fast and hard as you can, and you have someone trained up to pass them the baton at full speed,”he said.
“You might have to pick up the baton again, but your legs will be rested. It takes a lot of leaders to carry that baton.”
Being aggressive, focusing on action words like being “vibrant” or “dynamic” when community planning as opposed to static words like “sustainable,” will help put those words into action. Maybe when that one business closes, another one will open in time to offset it, Griffiths said.
Don’t take responsibility
This isn’t meant to be confused with blame, Griffiths said.
Residents expect their town’s council and administration to be responsible for everything because they are easy targets to blame. But, “all they’re responsible for is managing a municipal corporation,” Griffiths said. Every community leader and resident is responsible to one another, he said.
“You may not be to blame, but you’re still responsible to your community,” he said.