Strategies for Success
Small Town Success Stories from Across the United States
Teen Buys Grocery Store In Minnesota
In December 2006, 17-year-old Nick Graham bought the only grocery store in the small town of Truman, Minnesota (pop. 1,259). With help from a nonprofit agency and $10,000 he saved from doing odd jobs, the high school senior bought and reopened the store a month ago, making him "something of a hometown hero." Graham has hired grocery staff, worked after school and weekends, and still played football on the Truman high school's nine-man football team. Locals - many far older than Graham - credit him with restoring life to the town's struggling Main Street and saving them a 24-mile roundtrip to another store. "I can't count the number of people who helped stock shelves, price items and clean this place up." Graham says as he bags a customer's groceries.
When he came up with the idea, his classmates, well ... "I kind of thought he was crazy, at first," says his friend Nathan. Would they spend their money to open a grocery store? "Probably not," says Ashley Clow. Now, though, the locals flock back, loving the convenience. Snipping away nearby, hair stylist Tiffany Taylor says Graham has given Main Street a real shot in the arm. "There was nothing going on downtown, and now thereีs a lot more business," she says. And Graham is teaching classmates a lesson they don't ordinarily get. "It isn't about Nick" says economics teacher Jim Utermarck. "It's about the town of Truman. The reason he bought the grocery store is he wants to help the town of Truman. What more can you ask for?"
[ For more information, visit: www.msnbc.com ]
Supporting Local Businesses
Many communities are giving up waiting on large corporations or government to invest or provide jobs, and are instead building on their own strengths and resources. The people of Ithaca, New York (pop. 29,287) have done so by issuing their own paper currency, called Ithaca HOURS. Residents list the goods or services they have to offer in a large catalog - and then use the HOURS they earn to purchase goods and services from others. For some, this barter system provides a crucial margin of financial support. For others, it's a great way to meet people and build a sense of community. All find their spending habits redirected locally. The Ithaca HOUR is Ithaca's $10 bill, because $10 per hour is the average of wages/salaries in Tompkins County. These HOUR notes, in four denominations, buy plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, roofing, nursing, chiropractic care, child care, car and bike repair, food, eyeglasses, firewood, gifts, and thousands of other goods and services. The local credit union accepts them for mortgage and loan fees. People pay rent with HOURS. The best restaurants in town take them, as do movie theaters, bowling alleys, health clubs, two large locally-owned grocery stores, and 30 farmers' market vendors. Since 1991, the town has issued over $50,000 of their own local paper money, to over 950 participants in the program.
[ For more information, visit: www.ithacahours.org ]
Education As A Priority
The unincorporated village of Hartley, Texas, a panhandle community of barely 300, has kept itself alive principally by maintaining a good local school. Their effort illustrates a strong belief in, and support of, education. This town could have easily disappeared by the standards of size and location. Instead, residents taxed themselves at a rate higher than any other school district in the state to make sure their own school provided the best education possible. The investment paid off when a new state aid to education formula rewarded schools where students were succeeding. In addition, as a result of the school district's reputation, enrolment has increased by more than 50 percent in the last 10 years.
- Milan Wall, "Clues to Small Town Revival"
Save Passamaquoddy Bay
Citizens of Eastport, Maine (pop. 1,640), the eastern-most town in the United States, have gathered momentum to help fight a proposed International Gas Terminal and Tanker Operation in the Passamaquoddy Bay. Fearing the negative impact of this large industrial facility on their environmentally sensitive harbor, concerned citizens have formed the 3 Nation Alliance (Canada, the United States, and the Passamaquoddy Indian Nation) to raise awareness of, and lobby for, their concerns for the future of their town. They have begun raising money to support their efforts and started a website to share progress with others.
[ For more information, visit: www.savepassamaquoddybay.org ]
Boulder City, Nevada (pop. 16,206) lies twenty miles from the city of Las Vegas - one of the most rapidly growing cities in the U.S. Fearing urban sprawl would negatively impact the small-town character of their city, local officials implemented a Controlled Growth Ordinance in 1979, placing a 2% annual cap on future development. The city issues no more than 120 building permits per year, and hotels are restricted to having no more than 35 rooms.
[ For more information, visit: www.bcnv.org ]
Saving Main Street
In 1986, Bonaparte, Iowa's (pop. 458) major downtown retail establishment, White's Shopping Center, announced that it was closing its doors. Four community members - a downtown businessman, a hometown lawyer, a life-long Bonaparte resident, and an industry manager - took it upon themselves to form a for-profit corporation devoted to the business expansion of downtown Bonaparte. Naming the corporation Township Stores, Inc., each of them contributed $2,000 to the cause. With public support, Township Stores expanded into a broad-based, community-owned corporation in which no individual could invest more than $2,000. In a matter of three weeks the town had raised $100,000. With 17,000 square feet of retail space, Township Stores began renovation for the reopening of downtown businesses. The once vacant buildings are now occupied by a grocery store, hardware store, medical clinic, school administrative offices, two condominiums, two insurance agencies, a hair salon, and a community meeting hall. All of the money invested in the buildings came from local sources and all of the businesses serve local needs.
[ For more information, visit: www.bonaparte-iowa.com ]
The small town of Stella, Missouri (pop. 187), is a unique living laboratory that is testing the sustainable development potential of similar communities, based on a planning model developed by EPA researchers in cooperation with local residents. The Stella master plan provides a baseline of environmental, economic, and social variables by which to evaluate the sustainability of Stella's development over the next decade.
One of the goals of the Stella plan is to organize a local farmers' market to compensate for the lack of a grocery store in town and to create interaction with area farmers. The project involves organizing a cooperative to contract with farmers to grow food for local consumers, creating a distribution network, advertising, and developing space for market tables and tents.
Other goals include creating community gardens; restoring their stream bank park with native plants and recreational activities; creating wetlands to purify wastewater; recycling grey water for irrigation, lawn use, and car washing; building a new veterans' memorial; and concentrating commercial, institutional, and public activities in a core area within walking distance from a common parking area.
The plan was adopted in 2007, and the focus of a National Building Museum exhibition in 2009. [ For more information, visit: www.epa.gov ]
Municipal Wind Turbine
Ocean Gate, New Jersey (pop. 2,076) sits on the south bank of the Toms River, where renowned sailors come to play with the wind as it marries in a swirl with Barnegat Bay. The town will soon harness those fierce gusts to help pay energy costs. By the end of this summer, officials here plan to have built New Jersey's first municipal wind turbine. Costing about $300,000, the initiative is being lauded by environmentalists and energy conservation groups and may inspire other municipalities to consider building their own wind turbines. Thirty percent of the cost will be paid through state energy grants. The remainder is expected to be financed by a 10-year bond. According to Mayor Paul Kennedy, "As a town, Ocean Gate has taken a step forward to do something that in the long run can help this town and the environment and, in turn, may spur other municipalities to do the same thing. Some people laughed at us at first, but now we get calls all the time from other municipalities interested in talking to them about what we are doing."
Solar Powered Street Lights
The town of Dania, Florida (pop. 28,831) has decided that solar-powered street lights would be a good investment, considering the threat of hurricane-caused power outages. Dania will invest $1 million in the improvements, and city officials believe that's money well-spent after the power outages caused by 2005's Hurricane Wilma. City public works director Dominic Orlando said the project, expected to be completed within four months, is among infrastructure improvements requested by residents of the area, which the city annexed in 2001. The city decided to launch the solar program after Florida Power & Light couldn't quickly restore power and repair damaged poles following Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. The project is being funded by a grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Wind Powers 123% of Town's Energy
Rock Port, Missouri, (pop. 1,300), made history by being the first city in the US to be 100% powered by the wind, also making them #1 in the US for percentage of renewable energy. The Loess Hills Wind Farm, built by the Wind Capital Group, employing 500 workers from 20 states for about a year, is expected to produce about 16 million kilowatt hours annually, while Rock Port only uses 13 million. The excess wind power will be sold to other communities in the area.
The town of Greensburg, Kansas (pop. 1,452) was nearly obliterated by an F5 tornado in May 2007. But turning the devastation into an opportunity, the city is looking to make its mark by rebuilding as a green community. The city has mandated that all city buildings larger than 4,000 sq. ft. must be built to LEED-Platinum level standards and must have an energy performance level at least 42% better than current building code requirements.
"The city of Greensburg has taken the extraordinary step of committing to rebuild their community to a new vision, not settling for simply recreating what had gone before," said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council. "By committing to a recovery plan based on green building, the community's leadership has set a path that will result in a healthier, more livable city for its citizens, turning a crisis into an opportunity that is an example for us all."
A documentary on the town's reconstruction, called Greensburg, airs on Planet Green, a sister network of Discovery Channel. [ For more information on USGBC visit: www.usgbc.org/LEED ]
Green Collar Jobs
Green collar jobs are blue collar jobs in green businesses - that is, manual labor jobs in businesses whose products and services directly improve environmental quality. Green collar jobs are located in large and small for-profit businesses, non-profit organizations, social enterprises, and public sector institutions. Green collar jobs represent an important new category of work force opportunities because they are relatively high quality jobs, with relatively low barriers to entry, in sectors that are poised for dramatic growth. The combination of these three features means that cultivating green collar jobs can be an effective strategy to provide men and women with access to good jobs that provide meaningful, community serving work, living wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities. Twenty-two different sectors of the U.S. economy currently provide workers with green collar jobs. These sectors include:
- Bicycle repair and bike delivery services
- Car and truck mechanic jobs, production jobs, and gas-station jobs related to bio-diesel, vegetable oil and other alternative fuels
- Energy retrofits to increase energy efficiency and conservation
- Food production using organic and/or sustainably grown agricultural products
- Furniture making from environmentally certified and recycled wood
- Green building
- Green waste composting on a large scale
- Hauling and reuse of construction and demolition materials and debris (C&D)
- Hazardous materials clean up
- Green (sustainable) landscaping
- Manufacturing jobs related to large scale production of a wide range of appropriate technologies (i.e. solar panels, bike cargo systems, green waste bins, etc.)
- Materials reuse/producing products made from recycled, non-toxic materials
- Non-toxic household cleaning in residential and commercial buildings
- Parks and open space maintenance and expansion
- Printing with non-toxic inks and dyes and recycled papers
- Public transit jobs
- Solar installation and maintenance
- Tree cutting and pruning
- Peri-urban and urban agriculture
- Water retrofits to increase water efficiency and conservation
- Whole home performance (i.e: HVAC, attic insulation, weatherization, etc.)
The Ohio Mural Corridor
When Geoff Schenkel first started painting murals with 300 kids from Harmar Elementary School in Marietta, Ohio (pop. 14,515) he never dreamed it would turn into a three-year project. Schenkel began working with kids from Harmar School in December, 1993. The purpose of the mural project was to visually connect the town's past and present through a series of drawings. But it turned out to be much more. Each child contributed something to the murals, a ray of sunlight from one kid or a wispy cloud lacing through the sky from another. And the community of Marietta was bound together in important ways. Each panel grew to represent the hard work, and diverse contributions of the community. The project was so successful, Rural Action, a non-profit organization decided to sponsor Schenkel's vision. The next stop for the project was Main Street in the small-town of Shawnee, Ohio (pop. 608). There, Schenkel worked with kids from a youth summer camp to depict Shawnee's present and future in the murals.
Three years and several cans of paint later, the project has spanned into other small Ohio communities. Shenkel is currently working with Trimble Local School District, collecting drawings from elementary students in Trimble, Ohio (pop. 466). Murals are in the works for the towns of Jacksonville (pop. 544) and Glouster, Ohio (pop. 1,972). Eventually, Rural Action envisions creating an "Appalachian corridor" of murals.
[ For more information, visit: www.ruralaction.org ]
Historic Renovation as Economic Engine
Community leaders raising money for the restoration of the McPherson Opera House in McPherson, Kansas (pop. 13,770), found that tourists who seek out historic properties on their trips spend 1.86 as much in the local area as do tourists not interested in history. Historic tourists tend to stay in bed and breakfasts rather than in the cheaper hotels out by the Interstate. They shop at antique stores rather than Wal-Mart. They tend to eat at a local restaurant rather than McDonalds. And they tend support local shops rather national retail chains.
Kids With Cameras
Kids with Cameras is a non-profit organization that teaches the art of photography to marginalized children around the world. They use photography to capture the imaginations of children, to empower them, building confidence, self-esteem and hope. They share their vision and voices with the world through exhibitions, books, websites and film. By linking with local organizations, they work to strengthen the children's education and general well-being, providing financial support through sales of their prints or by developing their own home towns with a focus on leadership and the arts.
Below is a photograph from a similar project, run by BD Wortham, a professor at the University of Maryland, with the fifth grade class in Hyattsvile, Maryland (pop. 14,733). Students were given cameras and asked to capture on film what matters most about where they live. The results showed front porches, big trees in the local park, gatherings with friends, and many views out of the back seats of their parents cars. An exhibition of the children's photographs was held in Hyattsville to show the community and civic leaders an important, and oft overlooked, viewpoint of their home town.
Strength in Numbers
Occasionally, very small towns come together to create destinations larger than themselves. In Iowa, the Villages of Van Buren County, the Amana Colonies, and the Bridges of Madison County, all found that collectively they attract more visitors and more businesses than they do alone. Few will travel to a remote town to visit one covered bridge, but when you tally up all the covered bridges in Madison County, perhaps it's worth a trip. There are dozens of antique stores, restaurants, and recreation opportunities in Van Buren County, even though there is only one stop light in the entire county, and no one town has a population over 1,000.
Local Residents Reclaim Neighborhood Park
In Las Vegas, Nevada, local residents came together to reclaim Huntridge Circle Park, which had become rundown and taken over by the homeless. They redesigned the park, adding new activities and amenities, raised funds, gained political support from the City and County, and built the changes themselves. They added a bandshell and barbeque area for adults, a labyrinth, climbing balls and fountains for kids, all encircled by a walking trail. Local artists were commissioned to paint the picnic tables and add public sculpture. The local fourth grade class painted the restroom building with murals, which has also been effective in curtailing graffiti. As a result of bringing the community together to rebuild their own park, local residents now think of the park as theirs, and use this community gathering space much more than before.
Revitalizing Patterson Park
Founded in 1996, the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation (PPCDC) has designed, renovated, and completed over 350 rowhomes in the Patterson Park Neighborhood of East Baltimore, Maryland, over the past 12 years. The PPCDC has invested $70 million dollars in the community including restoring the park itself, buying and selling homes surrounding the park, creating affordable rental properties, and helping local residents purchase their own home. They also sponsor community programs such as street art, alley cleanings, and arts and education programs. Their mission is to develop and implement strategies that attract, retain, and support good neighbors in the Patterson Park community. Their underlying philosophy focuses on the importance of local control to a community's destiny. As such, their cornerstone programs begin with the acquisition of local housing stock - to prevent it from falling into the hands of often-destructive absentee landlords. The houses they buy are then developed into quality properties to rent and own. Their ultimate goal is to create a community that people seek out - a community in which to live, work, and play.
[ For more information, visit: www.ppcdc.org ]
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. HFHI seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action. Habitat invites people of all backgrounds, races and religions to build houses together in partnership with families in need. Habitat has built more than 250,000 houses around the world, providing more than 1 million people in more than 3,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.
Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses with the help of the homeowner (partner) families. Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable loans. The homeowners' monthly mortgage payments are used to build still more Habitat houses. Habitat is not a giveaway program. In addition to a down payment and the monthly mortgage payments, homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor - sweat equity - into building their Habitat house and the houses of others.
Habitat for Humanity's work is accomplished at the community level by affiliates - independent, locally run, nonprofit organizations. Each affiliate coordinates all aspects of Habitat home building in its local area - fund raising, building site selection, partner family selection and support, house construction, and mortgage servicing.
Below, students from UNC-Charlotte work on a new energy saving Habitat for Humanity home in Chatham County, North Carolina. [ For more information, visit: www.habitat.org ]
Targeting Investment in Redevelopment Areas
Prior to 1999, Richmond, Virginia stretched $7 million of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOME funds over 20 different neighborhoods throughout the city. Since 2000, the City Council has worked with neighborhood associations to select six target neighborhoods, based on neighborhood condition and revitalization potential. By targeting certain areas, average neighborhood funding increased, and noticeable results were achieved more quickly. Federal dollars leveraged investments from over 15 housing providers such as Habitat for Humanity, the Interfaith Housing Corporation, and other community development corporations.
By targeting their redevelopment, Richmond saw Safer Neighborhoods - a 17-percent drop in crime from 2000-2002 (versus five percent for the rest of the city), Increased Property Values - resulting in a 19-percent increase in assessed real estate values from 1998 to 2002, and Safer Housing - a 68-percent decrease in properties with code violations from 1999 to 2002.
Mayor Fights for more Neighborhood Control
Jeremy Harris served as Mayor of Honolulu, Hawaii from 1994 to 2004. Under his leadership, Honolulu was named "America's Greatest City" by the official American governance journal, Governing Magazine. Harris is recognized as having executed the first government system overhaul in Honolulu history. He reorganized all municipal departments and streamlined all services provided by the city and county. Harris has the distinction of being the only mayor to be elected more than once as United States Public Administrator of the Year by the American Society of Public Administration. Twice, Honolulu's "The Bus" was honored as America's Best Transportation System. Other foremost national societies named Honolulu first on the list of Kid Friendly Cities as well as the most digitally and technologically advanced city in the United States. Mayor Harris also curtailed urban sprawl by reforming the system of land use planning to preserve open spaces and agricultural districts. Harris' most ambitious project was 21st Century Oahu: A Shared Vision for the Future. 21st Century Oahu is a community based visioning program where neighborhoods would be given more control over their own community development, urban planning and beautification projects. Hundreds of public safety, environment, transportation, cultural and recreation construction is currently underway as an outgrowth of Harris' 21st Century Oahu project.
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