Review: 13 Ways to Kill Your Community
This book is written for small town residents with the desire to make a difference in their community, but who aren’t quite sure what to do, or feel they are isolated or alone in the challenges they face. The author, Doug Griffiths, travelled extensively throughout rural Alberta, as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, creating a rural development strategy for the province. Out of that experience he wrote “13 Ways to Kill Your Community”, describing the power small communities have to change their future.
The reason for the ironic theme is that Doug found that rural communities tend to be their own worst enemies. Even though residents and community leadership have good intentions, they often take actions or adopt attitudes that hold the community back. Doug set out to map the attitudes and actions that undermine the development of communities and present them in a way that grabs the attention of the reader.
What is this warning list, you may ask? Here they are the “13 Ways to Kill Your Community”: Don’t have Quality Water, Don’t Attract Business, Ignore your Youth, Deceive Yourself About Your Real Needs or Values, Shop Elsewhere, Don’t Paint, Don’t Cooperate, Live in the Past, Ignore your Seniors, Reject Everything New, Ignore Outsiders, Become Complacent, and Don’t Take Responsibility.
In the discussion on “ignore your youth”, Doug opens with a direct challenge: is there succession planning for council or local government positions in your community? If it is obvious that youth should be engaged, why did only one community, out of 250 that Doug had visited in his travels, have an explicit succession plan? This community has an elected youth committee that shadows town council and is engaged in the political process with the aim of encouraging youth to run for council. The chapter also contains a frank challenge to the pervasive attitude that youth leave because there are “no opportunities for youth in this community”. He shares the response that a young woman named Shawna Wallace has to this statement. She suggests that we replace the word “youth” with the word “future” and say the same thing again. As Doug says, after making the substitution it becomes a lot harder to shrug your shoulders and leave youth behind.
The warnings may sound obvious, but Doug’s point is that even though we may understand or agree with a principle, our actions may not be consistent with our intentions. The greatest value of the book is in the solutions it presents; examples of what small communities have done to meet these challenges head on are packed into every chapter. The book sometimes has an Alberta flavour, but the majority of the comments are universal and will be of interest to every resident of a small town who has wondered what to do to help their community grow and develop.