A few ingredients of succcessful towns

February 24, 1998|By Robert Bruchey II

A few ingredients of succcessful towns

In a recent issue of Municipal Maryland I ran across an article taken from the October 1991 issue of the Ohio Planning Conference Newsletter. The following is based on the work of Dr. Comelia Flora of Kansas State University.

I felt compelled to submit this information, given the current controversy surrounding the idea of a new stadium for Hagerstown and Washington County. This article is something that everyone should read and ponder, not only about a new stadium, but any future endeavors that the city and county should delve into.

The successful community

Research has shown that in successful communities, controversy was considered normal. It was expected. It was not treated as bad, wrong or abnormal - and neither were the people who presented it. Rather, controversy was regarded as a necessity of participatory governance.


Just the opposite was revealed in dying towns. People avoided controversy and refused to address issues. In addition, the public was antagonistic toward rules, regulations and the people who made them.

People in successful towns had an objective view of politics. They did not side with someone out of friendship alone. Neither did they oppose someone simply because that person was an educator, a businessperson or farmer.

On the other hand, dying towns personalized their politics - they couldn't separate the person from the job. They gave loyalty to people rather than to the issues, and the good old boy clique prevailed right up to the end.

In prosperous towns, the emphasis on schools was on academics rather than sports.

In dying towns, schools tried to hold people's interests by promoting loyalty to sports. However, when academic programs deteriorated, people moved their children to better schools.

In successful communities, there was a willingness to risk for the good of the town. Prosperous communities had enough success to want to risk - and they had success because they did risk.

Dying towns did neither. Successful towns have a willingness to tax themselves. They moved beyond want and desire to action.

Dying towns accurately identified need, but that's where everything stopped. They thought someone else should pay the bill for their gain and weren't willing to tax themselves.

Successful towns had the ability to expand; they made a place for people- including those who were new to the community.

That was not true of a dying town, where townspeople would not share their power and authority with newcomers, and a small group held all the leadership positions.

Successful towns have the ability to network vertically as well as horizontally.

By contrast, learning in dying towns was all lateral. The citizens didn't want to learn from anyone who wasn't exactly like them.

Finally, successful towns were flexible. They dispersed the community leadership, with many people involved in the work and mission of the community.

In dying communities, a small clique of people controlled all the decision-making processes.

Robert Bruchey II is the mayor of Hagerstown.

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