We don’t typically talk about cities like we do people. We avoid language that personalizes a place, instead favoring the language of corporate America. I talked about this a bit last week in my blog post, but I want to go a little further. When confined to corporate speak of growth/investment/development, we depersonalize cities and judge them on their ability to perform like companies. Cities are not companies and do not behave like companies. The places we inhabit, behave like people. Every community takes on the characteristics of the people that call it home. This is why we find different personalities amongst cities in different parts of the world. Corporations aren’t interesting, cities are. These idiosyncrasies are what makes a place special. We know that Brooklyn has a very different vibe from Boulder, and it’s not just because of the local climate or buildings, but because of the people that call it home. Those people give the city its flavor.
Not only do we need to use the language of people when talking about our places, but we should also use the same strategies. It isn’t about growth, it’s about wellness. It’s not about investment, it’s about health. It’s not about development, its about improvement. When we approach cities from the same perspective as we do people, we are provided with better tools to address the real issues they are facing.
Places, like people, are suffering. I know so many cities that are dealing with generational depression. These are places that cannot overcome their trust issues and continue to make decisions that only hasten their decline. Why would this be? Because these cities are full of people that are struggling with the same issues. You get kicked around for 40 years and tell me if you aren’t a bit traumatized. Tell me you haven’t learned to not trust when you feel like you have been lied to your whole life. Remove everything that you used to care about and you don’t think apathy will settle in? A city full of people that have all suffered the same, will behave just the same. A healthy city will be full of people that are more engaged, more optimistic, more trusting. In a struggling city, these people will be harder to find. Most of them move away, or have had their optimism ground down.
I think about how we help our loved ones when they are dealing with issues of addiction, depression, low self-esteem or other challenges. We know how to help people when they are down or struggling. We have seen the research, we have the data, we are more confident than ever when it comes to addressing personal growth and wellness.
With all this in mind, I have decided to take a people based approach to our places. As I have mentioned before, I am going beyond just pointing out the problems when it comes to place, I am charting out a path to improvement. I have spent the last couple of months thinking through this, talking with colleagues, endlessly bothering my wife and taking in new information. I am confident, through this process, that I have come to some conclusions that will significantly help me execute my work, while also providing communities with a clearer picture of themselves and their course.
I see my work now as a counselor to communities, I see the process of improvement as one of recovery. Not every community needs to recover, some never faltered, some have already fought their way back to wellness, but those are not the ones that need help. Too much attention is paid to those communities and not enough help is available for those towns dealing with the generational trauma. The towns I am concerned are like the one in which I grew up. Places where the local economy has been decimated, where family legacies have been destroyed, where parasitic national chains know they can siphon off more resources, where people with means and ability feel they have to flee to find opportunity. Sadly, this town I am describing, isn’t an aberration or an exception, it’s the norm.
To be continued – Part 2. How the Road to Recovery Works