by Quint Studer, author of “Building A Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America“
You love your community. It’s home. It’s where you live, work, learn, play, and raise your family. And (to put it in Valentine’s Day terms) you want others to love your community as much as you do. Sure, that means visitors, entrepreneurs, talent, and maybe even outside investors — but it all starts with citizens.
There are lots of small, high-impact ways to show your community some love, help others see it in a new light, and maybe re-spark your own passion for the future.
If you’re a homeowner, you know a fresh coat of paint can really improve how things look and feel. It makes you love your house and gets you thinking about more changes. The same is true on a community level.
There are some easy and inexpensive quick fixes that can make a big difference right away. These little improvements can get people engaged and in the right mindset for change. Once you get some momentum going, who knows what might happen from there?
Pensacola’s journey to vibrancy is detailed in my book, which is a “blueprint” I hope other cities will follow. Many of the ideas I shared in it are small, inexpensive steps communities can take that, over time, have a huge impact.
Here, in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are some tried and true small ways you can show your community some love:
1. Celebrate your city with a bouquet of “bright spots.”
Forget candy hearts and flowers. The best way to love your community is to shine a spotlight on what it does well. For Valentine’s Day, tweet, post, or otherwise share your gratitude for your charming downtown, your high-performing school system, your voter turnouts, or your awesome location nestled in the mountains. In other words, make a big deal out of what’s right instead of always talking about what’s wrong.
Every community has bright spots and celebrating them just makes people feel good. It gets citizens in a positive frame of mind, which is the first step toward helping them see that a great future is possible.
2. Fix what’s broken before building new stuff.
We all love big, shiny new things, but sometimes what we have is great. It just needs a little attention. It’s better to make small, incremental investments over time instead of taking a (risky, expensive, and maybe controversial) “big project” approach.
3. Take a slow drive through your neighborhood. What do you see that might make people’s lives better?
This was a suggestion from Charles ‘Chuck’ Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns. When you take the time to experience your community at 2 mph, not 45 mph, you will see things you’ve never noticed before. Look for simple fixes that can pack a big punch.
It might be creating bike lanes or repainting pavement markings on a street that’s too wide or dangerous. It might be creating a pedestrian sidewalk in a vital location. It might be planting trees in a park that’s too hot for kids to play in during summer. These are the kinds of small, modest investments that make a real difference in citizens’ lives and show them you care.
4. Also, look for what’s about to fail or break.
It might not seem sexy or glamorous, but getting out in front of problems will save money in the long run. Being proactive helps build community pride and it also says to citizens, “Let’s keep our house in working order. We’re worth it.”
5. Ask, “How can we create a good first impression on visitors?”
What is the first thing visitors see when they arrive in the community? Is there a prominent landmark, a beautiful building, or a big piece of public art that creates the feeling that they’ve arrived at a special destination? If not, maybe there should be. What people see is a big part of creating your brand and that “sense of place” that makes people proud to be a citizen.
6. Make sure prominent landmarks look fresh and appealing.
If landmarks in the community don’t look welcoming and well maintained, then do something about them right away. The way a city is kept says a lot about how its residents see it.
When retired Navy Vice Admiral Jack Fetterman came to Pensacola, he noticed the landmark water tower had peeling paint and suggested we paint it right away. While it’s no longer functional, the tower is a symbol of Pensacola, and it’s the first thing people see when they come downtown. It appears in a lot of tourist photos. It deserved to be refurbished. This was a relatively simple fix that has made a big impact.
7. Keep the community clean and green.
Just keeping a city clean and attractive—and maybe even planting a few flowers — can make a huge difference. There is even a fair amount of evidence that creating a cleaner, greener, better-maintained community can lower crime rates. Certainly, attractive communities have higher property values, attract more businesses, and promote loyalty in citizens.
Small, carefully thought-out changes can make a big difference in how communities look. People notice these things right away. They spark a big surge of pride. Citizens get excited about their community again, perhaps for the first time in a very long time.
These changes may seem tiny, but they make a huge difference in how a community feels about itself. Before they even realize it, they’re on their way to vibrancy. When you love yourself, your mindset shifts. You believe you deserve a better quality of life and you’re willing to do the things that make that happen.
Quint Studer is author of “Building A Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America” and founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life and moving Escambia and Santa Rosa counties forward. He is a businessman, a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to many. He currently serves as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida.