The power of proactive thinking
By HELEN BUDROCK
What is the one thing that you love about your community? If you could wave a magic wand tomorrow, what is the one thing that you would change? So begins the discussion at one of many visioning workshops I have facilitated in a community near you over the past few years. Whether its a river town located along the banks of the Delaware, or a mountain community nestled in the foothills of the Catskill high peaks, the themes that emerge are eerily similar.
People cherish the scenic quality of their communities, the small town feel, the friendly people and the rural charm. At the same time, they want to see more attractive downtowns, dilapidated and neglected buildings fixed up and new life breathed into them, year-round business activity and more job opportunities for our youth.
While there are many similarities in terms of what people cherish about their communities, and what they would like to see in terms of improvements, some communities are more successful at making positive change happen than others. After more than a dozen years of seeing some communities thrive, while others remain stagnant, Ive come to the conclusion that the magic ingredient is a combination of a proactive government and active engaged citizens.
How many times have you heard your local officials complain that the only time people come to town board meetings are when they have something to complain about?
How many times have you seen a group of concerned citizens rally up the troops to fight some development that is perceived to be a threat to his or her quality of life? It doesnt matter if it is casinos, mushroom plants, mammoth resorts or hilltop housespeople generally dont put as much effort into making positive change happen as they do into stopping something they dont want.
There are, however, exceptions to that rule. Therein lies the difference between a community that is proactive about its future and one that simply sits back and reacts to issues as they arise. The tiny hamlet of Barryville is one such community. A group of forward-thinking business owners and community residents recognized the potential of their little stretch of Route 97 and got together to discuss opportunities for the future.
Those initial discussions led to a series of visioning workshops held in the Town of Highland back in 2004. By sharing ideas and thinking positively about the future, momentum started to build, and Barryville was chosen last year as one of only four communities to participate in the large projects category in the Sullivan Renaissance program. Through this program, Barryville will receive $10,000 a year for three years for beautification efforts, as well as assistance in developing a long-range community development plan. Last years project involved transforming a historic building into a visitors information center. This year, volunteers will create a history walk, among other things. All the while, community members were brainstorming about other projects designed to make Barryville a better place to livepublic access to the river, a playground, farmers market and making Route 97 more pedestrian friendly are all things the group is working toward.
So take an example from the folks in Barryvilleget up, get out and get involved in your community. Instead of complaining about what you dont like about where you live, step back and think about what you would like your community to become. Dont just passively accept things they way they areas Robert F. Kennedy once said, The future is not completely beyond our control… it is the work of our own hands.
[Helen Budrock is a certified planner providing assistance to communities on a wide range of environmental, housing and community development issues. A resident of Hurleyville, she currently serves as assistant director at The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, a regionally based nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental conservation and sustainable development. For more information, visit www.catskillcenter.org or call 845/586-2611.]