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Building a Vibrant Community

America’s communities are starting to reopen. It’s been a long, few months, and we’re ready to get out of our homes. We probably won’t be quick to hop on a plane, but we will opt for local and regional travel.

Think of this as the Rediscover America Tour. There is one bright spot of this pandemic: smaller towns have an edge right now – sparse populations and open space make them hot commodities! It’s important to grab this opportunity and move quickly. Here are a few tips to get ready:

If you started revitalization before the pandemic, don’t lose momentum.

Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i–rFAo358bU) in 1947. Others attempted and failed, because, at a certain speed, there is so much turbulence.

Natural instinct is to pull up on the throttle. However, Yeager kept the throttle down and broke the sound barrier. Communities need to do the same: keep your eyes on the future and keep the throttle down!

Thoughtfully and carefully get the message out. The right communication will help create a sense of urgency and get your community engaged. You must work together to avoid “analysis paralysis” and execute on smart ideas. Carefully navigate discussions around both revitalization and reopening logistics.

Build on your assets and strengths. What are your bright spots? Cultivate them! Difference, not sameness, is what draws visitors. Look for ways to accentuate those features!

Little things matter. It’s important to make small, incremental changes (https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/9/19/the-strong-towns-approach-to-public-investment-satbook). Big changes made all at once are often unsustainable. What small improvements might be made in your community?

Don’t wait until the timing is perfect to get into traffic. Think about how you merge onto the interstate. If you wait until conditions are 100 percent favorable, you might never make a move. Jump in when you can. Adjust. Experiment. Get creative (https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/5/13/is-your-city-willing-to-be-flexible-so-small-businesses-can-survive).

Teach citizens and business owners how to promote your community. A lot of this can, and should, happen inside small businesses. Every business should think of itself as a mini “visitor center.” Encourage them to cross-promote other businesses and area attractions.

Understand it’s about the experience, not just the product. Here’s how Disney does it: less emphasis on rides/attractions and more on the “magical” experience. People may return to a coffee shop not for the great cappuccino but because of the really fun barista who serves it. You must sell enthusiasm for your community as well as your product.

Finally, be patient. We are all learning. Some things will work better than expected, some will meet expectations, and some won’t work. Patience and forgiveness are important.

Above all, mindset is everything (https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/smallbusiness/strong-towns-cities-that-thrive-after-covid-will-be-those-that-experiment/ar-BB13mIlA).Those who think of the new normal as an amazing opportunity to shine, rather than thinking of themselves as victims, are more likely to thrive.

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