Sunday, December 28, 2014

20 Keys To Community Survival

Community survival -- it's on the minds of many small town residents nowadays.

A few years ago in an editorial, we mentioned that Dorchester has been able to escape school consolidation and loss of population, both of which are crippling many small Plains' communities. But one look at our main street reminds us that our community is not immune to the struggles facing Small Town America.

We editorialized in 2009 that Dorchester leaders (e.g., the community foundation, the planning committee, the town board) should establish a "Vision 2015" plan that establishes some goals for Dorchester, to improve the already-good quality of life we enjoy.

Guess what? 2015 is here.  

Whether a nation, or a community, or an individual, you cannot attain greatness without first laying out your goals.

For Dorchester's list of goals, our residents should check out an old issue of VISIONS magazine, published some time ago by the non-profit Heartland Center for Leadership Development

The magazine lists 20 "clues to community survival" that were compiled following a case study of small towns in Missouri, Kansas and Texas that were thriving against all odds in the midst of the 1980s farm crisis.

The study of these successful small towns "offers positive examples and proof that the knowledge, skills and attitudes for community building are at work in many places," according to the VISIONS article.

The list isn't a recipe, nor does it represent the checklist for a perfect small town, say the authors of the study. However, we think the list serves as a useful tool for starting the conversation about community improvement and goal setting in Dorchester. 


1.) Evidence of Community Pride ("Successful communities are often showplaces of care, attention, history and heritage," the study says.)

2.) Emphasis on Quality in Business & Community Life

3.) Willingness to Invest in the Future: ("In addition to the brick-and-mortar investments, all decisions are made with an outlook on the future.")

4.) Participatory Approach to Community Decision Making ("Even the most powerful opinion leaders seem to work toward building consensus.")

5.) Cooperative Community Spirit

6.) Realistic Appraisal of Future Opportunities ("Successful communities have learned how to build on strengths and minimize weaknesses.")

7.) Awareness of Competitive Positioning ("Local loyalty is emphasized in successful small towns, but thriving communities know who their local competitors are and position themselves accordingly.")

8.) Active Economic Development Program ("There is an organized, public/private approach to economic development.")

9.) Knowledge of the Physical Environment ("Relative location and available natural resources underscore decision-making.")

10.) Deliberate Transition of Power to a Younger Generation of Leaders ("People under 40 regularly hold key positions in civic and business affairs in strong communities.")

11.) Celebration of Diversity in Leadership ("Women, young people, and newcomers are elected officials, business leaders, and entrepreneurial developers.")

12.) Strong Belief in and Support for Education

13.) Problem-Solving Approach to Providing Health Care and Housing Older Residents

14.) Strong Multi-Generational Family Orientation ("The definition of family is broad, and activities include younger as well as older generations.")

15.) Strong Presence of Traditional Institutions that are Integral to Community Life ("Churches, schools and service clubs are strong influences on community development and the social network.")

16.) Sound and Well-Maintained Infrastructure ("Leaders work to maintain streets, Main Street buildings, water systems and sewage facilities.")

17.) Careful Use of Fiscal Resources

18.) Sophisticated Use of Technology Resources

19.) Willingness to Seek Help from the Outside ("People seek outside help for community needs, and many compete for government grants and contracts for projects and services.")

20.) Conviction That, in the Long Run, You Must Do It Yourself ("Thriving rural communities believe their destiny is in their own hands. Making their communities good places is a pro-active assignment, and they are willing to accept it.")

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