A Simple Solution

February 16, 2024

Care. That is the simple solution. This stuff isn’t that hard, but a lot of people have a lot invested in making it seem hard. They have been extremely successful as well because nearly every community feels like they can’t make a move until an outside expert first conducts multiple studies and surveys to confirm what people want.

So let’s keep this simple. We used to have lots of reasons to care, we lost those reasons and so now we care less. Nothing revolutionary happening here, just people responding rationally to a set of circumstances.

What our communities once had in abundance were things to care about. These easy-to-care-about things included pretty buildings, locally owned shops, rich social connections, familial ties, community legacies, consistent progress, and an ability to get involved and make a difference, to name a few. Those attributes are things that make people feel good as well as things people care about. Not just some people, not just the people that used to call your town, but all people.

As a nation, we shifted our focus away from the local economy to the national economy, from Main Street to Wall Street, and those easy-to-care-about things were all lost. We placed far a greater emphasis on building sprawl, loosening business regulations, expanding the highway system, and making sure shareholders could get paid. This shift from local to national was inconceivably successful at migrating money from the hands of many to the accounts of few.

Every business or builder operating in your community that is not owned by someone within your community, is mining your town for its financial resources. They are in the extraction business and your town is a mountain getting gutted for its gold.

This seismic shift in how our economy functions, brought along with it a collapse in things worth caring about. The local bookstore was replaced by Amazon. The local grocer was replaced by Costco. The local baker was replaced by Panera and every other retail shop was replaced by a department within Walmart.

As local businesses were supplanted by national chains, the pretty old buildings that housed them fell into disrepair. And of course, those buildings were all replaced with depression-inducing vinyl squalor around the edges of town. And to ensure those buildings and their extraction-based business, ample customers needed to live nearby. So attractive, dense, walkable housing construction was outlawed in favor of massive, car-centric, sad subdivisions.

More roads, more cars, more gas, more subdivisions, more Targets, more sprawl, more sprawl, more sprawl, more sprawl. Less to care about. Less to be concerned with. Less that matters. Less to love. Who can possibly love a strip mall? Is it emotionally conceivable to feel affection towards a big box store? Can one experience a profound sense of joy piloting their Kia down the strode to acquire more Count Chocula from Dollar General?

I beg you to let go of the notion that somehow humans have fundamentally changed over the course of the last couple of generations. It’s not true and it’s a bit silly honestly. People didn’t change, no one up and decided that caring less was going to be cool. No one made a decision that having fewer things in our lives to be attached to or proud of was just a real win-win.

We removed the things that were really easy to care about, feel affection for, and grow attached to and replaced them with things that are really hard to care about, feel affection for, and grow attached to. Swap out all the good things in your life for generic, cheap, mass-produced substitutes, and tell me how your life changes.

People don’t care as much today because there is so much less to care about. It takes more time and effort to create a thing worth caring about. We cant short cut the process without suffering the consequences.

It’s not that people don’t want to care about their community, far from it, it’s just harder and harder to find those things worth caring about.

When something special is replaced with something inferior, concern wanes, care declines, pride dwindles. But the converse is true as well and thank Jane for that! When something inferior is replaced with something of quality, care increases, concern grows and pride swells.

So I come back to the simple solution. Its care. Our communities didn’t decline because the people did, no, the conditions declined and people adapted. Amazing, beautiful, and wonderful things were traded out for cheap, ugly disposable things and resident’s level of care and concern adjusted accordingly.

We did this to ourselves and we are suffering from the consequences. We are all worse off when we have less to care about. We are all a little more susceptible to addiction and depression when we have less to be concerned about. We are all a little less human when we struggle to find a place to invest our pride.

Focus on care. We all need more to care about, we all need more to drive us to be better and more to hang our pride on. People need more pretty places in their town to love and maintain, and more social connections to tend to and cherish. We don’t just need more stuff, we need more of the right stuff. More of the things that make us feel good about ourselves, more of the things that will make us feel good about our town.

If we want residents to love their town, we must give them reasons to care first. So let care be your guide and use pride as a decision-making lens. Start replacing the things that are hard to care about, with those that are easy to care about. Stop hopping citizens will learn to love the unlovable and focus on building that which is easy to love.

Care is not a scarce commodity, all of us have a vast ability to care immensely, but that well is going untapped and the results are anything but surprising.

There is only one thing you must keep in mind when you set about revitalizing your community and that is care. Give people a reason to care and they will not disappoint you.

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