I talk to people all over town about local issues. I keep hearing the same question over and over. People will run down an inventory of resources we have like the industrial park, our schools, the coliseum, the lily collection, COSADC, etc. and wonder why things aren't better. There are plenty of problems but one common thread is connections.
Everyone has horror stories about assembling a toy or piece of furniture. "Some assembly required" scares many people. Connecting all those parts can be difficult, especially with the average instruction sheet. Now imagine a larger, more complex project where the connections are not always visible, and all you have are bits and pieces of notes on how other people connected their pieces.
A community, whether it's a neighborhood, a city, or a state, is very complex and only works when the connections are right. Take a look at a neighborhood. In any neighborhood you will find a number of houses and apartments and maybe a park, school, some churches and businesses. In a healthy, thriving neighborhood all of these things will be connected. It could be economically such as with a neighborhood grocery store that supplies food and jobs to the neighborhood. It could socially as in a park, club, recreation center, or business where people meet to party, play, or just cuss and discuss what is going on in their world with friends and neighbors. It could be a strong spiritual connection like that found in many small neighborhood churches. The connection could be concerns about the welfare and future of children, especially when schools, parks and sports facilities are concerned. A clean, kid friendly park can be a connecting force for a neighborhood. A run down, poorly maintained park with graffiti and gang activity will break these connections and damage the health of a neighborhood.
Too often in the planning and discussion of schools, parks, sports facilities, etc. community connections are either ignored or treated as only a matter of dollars and cents. It's not uncommon to see discussions about some sports facility end up being bogged down by where it is cheapest to build it or how many (low paying) jobs it might create or how much sales or occupancy tax it might generate if a national tournament, through some miracle, happened to play here. Its connection to the community and how it could be a focal point for a stronger community gets lost among the dollar signs.
Schools have a very special connection to neighborhoods. Any real estate agent will tell you that good schools make it much easier to sell homes in a neighborhood. When you renovate, close or move a school, you are doing heart surgery on a neighborhood. If not done skillfully, the neighborhood might not survive.
In the end, every government worker and elected official should be given a briefing packet with this warning at the beginning "This is our community. You are hired to take care of it. Some assembly required."