Building attractive communities

David Beurle, from Melbourne, Australia is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts in community development – particularly small communities. He was the keynote speaker at the Anchors Away conference in Iowa recently.

Beurle cited a phenomenon in which people from California and the East Coast, for example, are moving to the Midwest because of social and environmental issues. “The values shift I see in America is leaning toward family,” Beurle said. “Today people want to be able to make a change.”Beurle, who has provided consulting services for Emmetsburg and Hartley and Jackson, Minn., said that a community of even just 1,000 population has a potential annual expendable income of $15 million.

Smaller communities need to address synergy, vision and partnerships within their communities. One of the downsides of rural leadership programs, unfortunately, said Beurle, “is that people up and go.” Volunteer leaders may find themselves carrying the whole weight and experience “burn out”.Economic development requires new creativity where new ideas can flourish,” said Beurle. “I always come at it from why do you live here,” Beurle said. “People can connect the dots. You just need to show them how to connect the dots.”Community leaders need to make their communities attractive places to live and to provide jobs. And, due to people in urban areas feeling the need for a “sea change” in a more values-oriented culture, the development potential for rural America is not a matter of “if” but “when”.

And those communities that are ready to accommodate new people will be the first to succeed, Beurle said.”I think we’re seeing the tip of the iceberg in rural America,” Beurle said.

“Metropolitan urban America is becoming increasingly less attractive for people.”As a case in point, Beurle said he has found people in western North Dakota who migrated from California. Others migrated from the Minneapolis and Chicago areas to the rural Midwest.

I stubbornly stick to the notion “if you build it, they will come” which for me has traditionally meant jobs.

Beurle focuses on building welcoming and attractive communities.

Maybe he’s got a point there. Is Tracadie a warm and welcoming place? Do we embrace new people in Minto? How about Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton?

Maybe we should put a renewed focus on the ‘values’ and attractiveness of our communities and the promote that too the world.


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0 Responses to Building attractive communities

  1. Anonymous says:

    Apart from ‘tourism’, how do you do that? Go door to door and offer courses on ‘how to be nicer to strangers’?

    I would question this guy’s brilliance if he’s got the idea that people are leaving the coast for the midwest for ‘value centric’ reasons. That seems just the opposite of what demographics show. Rural populations there are declining just like canada, however, local and states have far more clout there, and the USDA makes sure plenty of subsidies flow to rural areas. It’s quite well known that rural populations are the republicans backbone.

    It sounds like a case of ‘cart before the horse’, in looking at selected numbers. That people are up and leaving places where there are jobs for other places where there are none requires quite a bit of proof. He very well may be mistaking INVESTMENT in the midwest from the coastal areas, which has always been a standard pattern as the coasts are already developed and the midwest has pockets of under-development. There’s no point in buying real estate in New Jersey-you’ll never make money on it, but in Iowa its a different story (depending on the type).

    How that’s helpful for rural canada I don’t know. While most rural people are suspicious of outsiders (and its an especially hard sell in Minto I suspect-if you recall recent history). However, I don’t know many rural areas that wouldn’t absolutely LOVE new blood, particularly if it brings an income.

    I know plenty of ‘tourist’ towns where they are actively looking even for americans to come and buy cottages. That’s a half assed approach that will garner you a little, but certainly not a lot.

    However, as you mention, towns in the states have far more resources to choose from. People’s overall tax level is lower, and their household costs are lower, and municipalities have more taxes to choose from. Here in Canada it is ‘doled out’ and municipalities are starving. Like I’ve said, Canadian investment cities is roughly half of the US’, and a quarter of Europes. But you can’t even get politicians to talk about it. Ironically, in many provinces like Ontario the bulk of social housing is up to municipalities, but whenever there is a ‘meeting’ in Ottawa about housing, the cities don’t even get invited!

  2. David Jonah says:

    This is an extremely relevant and interesting post and report on a strategy that is often overlooked.

    Few recall this, but it is intriguing to me that the first stage of Moncton’s recovery in the early 80’s when times and appearances in Moncton were bleakest, was that the first thing that Moncton was advised as a strategy by economic development experts to do was to change it’s own sense of self.

    Become a postive centre and in doing so, become a magnet for other postive minded investors.

    The concept that was recommended was to be proud of their community attributes, such as they were then, and promote them.

    To, in effect, put out the welcome mat and be an inviting and positive place to do business.

    At the time the municipal and community leaders offered a version of Yeah, right. Positive about what.

    Well, a small band of naturally positive people around the City of Moncton began to talk positively. The Mayor and MP at the time found the only program that was possible for Moncton at the time and that was an infrastructure renewal program for streetscapes.

    It was controversial to tear up Main Stree and simply put in new plumbing and oh, the sidewalks were going to be paved in brick. The downtown would be out of business over two summer tourist season.

    The screams were heard all the way to the Chamber of Commerce office on St. George Street, at the time.

    It was something that everybody had an opinion on until the first street corner was finished at Church and Main. It was a beacon.

    Moncton never looked back from that first finished intersection and the look spread west and east to what it is today.

    Thus in 1983-85 and continuing on to completion in 87, Downtown Moncton’s new street scape was born. Ads were bartered in InFlight magazines to promote Moncton’s only asset at the time, which was to be and remain, the positive business Hub of the Maritimes.

    Then there was a positive announcement of a dozen jobs and a potential to have a new Library in a new Blue Cross building investment. Then it appeared that one positive announcement and mental attitude built on one another.

    It was only 1989 and the best was yet to come.

    The number of things that occurred in separate initiations then appeared to link and network into a wave of investment and change. Then Moncton was off and running on it’s own self fullfilling momentum.

    The cause of all of this was, as this expert espoused. a change ion attitude and making Moncton an inviting place that beleived in itself.

    If Moncton as a community had not banished negative thinking from the leadership and began the process of renewal with an Open for Business attitude that morphed into the famous Can-Do Moncton attitude, then the future of Moncton would be different than what we are experiencing today.

    This theory can happen anywhere.

    When a community of any size decides to become positive and build for what may come, instead of looking back at what has been lost, then the outcome will be a past mourned rather than a future to be celebrated.

    May not happen every time in every community, but the over riding attribute that Moncton generated in the early days was their attitude. It was mentioned for years by every CEO of a company that came to a press conference to announce that they were investing in the positive Can Do atmosphere of the new, New Moncton, of New Brunswick, Canada.

    We need to not forget this message and strategy. It is an extension of If you Build It, They Will Come; but first you have to have faith enough in your own goodness of purpose to get others to join your community.

    As I said, great post and the negativity of the comment to your post motivated me to write. I was there when Moncton’s wet blankets of remorse and negativity threw off the negative and embraced the positive, without much of a reason to do so, other than the alternative future that could have been made a self fulfilling prophecy of loss and defeat.

    The strategy of Moncton’s streetscape was liked to fixing up the front door entrance to the community and welcoming investment.

    Ever notice that Dieppe, is creating a new downtown streetscape image to launch their next round of postive, open for business attitude.

    It simply works, as the investment history shows.