Avoid the ‘don’ts’ in building community

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This is the time of year that we make New Year’s resolutions whether they are personal or business and one of mine was to spend more time reading and less time on the computer. Good luck with that one but so far, so good! Of the two books I read over the holidays, one in particular was of great interest to me. With all of the discussion surrounding the revitalization of the rural economy in Nova Scotia an easy read was “13 Ways to Kill Your Community” by Doug Griffiths, a 29-year-old member of the provincial legislature in Alberta. As Minister of Municipal Affairs for the province, he would have a great deal of political insight. What impressed me was his common sense business acumen and suggestions regarding the rural areas of his province. The following is his list of “don’ts”:

(1) Don’t have quality drinking water:  Does this resonate with anyone? As a group of communities with aging infrasture, boil water advisories seem to be occurring regularly. Even our country cousin whom we sometime envy for their clean well water are subjected to occasional high coliform, E-coli and other environmental contaminants.

(2) Don’t attract business: There have been a plethora of mainly government funded groups and organizations that have been engaged in the attraction and retention of business to rural Nova Scotia and there have been some success stories. Unfortunately it has been the small business sector that has suffered the greatest losses while larger businesses seem to attract the government loans and handouts. Rural Nova Scotia was built on the backs of small business enterprises and they will be the key to the rejuvenation of rural N.S.

(3) Ignore your youth: Cutbacks in education are often discussed as a means of controlling the finances and with education chewing up almost a third of the provincial budget, it is low hanging fruit that’s a great temptation to pick at. Leave it alone! Our schools, community colleges and universities are some of the best in the world and highly sought after by both international students and potential employers. Halifax’s financial and high-tech sectors have fared well by these resources and the jobs do not have to be confined to urban centres.

(4) Deceive yourself about your real needs and values: Prior to WW1 over 50 per cent of the provincial jobs were in rural Nova Scotia and this percentage in decline ever since. There is however a deep rooted sentiment about our roots in rural Nova Scotia and many would be happy to escape the urban sprawl of Halifax, Toronto or Alberta just to be back home with a decent-paying job.

(5) Shop elsewhere: You can drive through most downtowns in the province and see the devastation the shopping malls and big box stores are having, a trend not likely to reverse anytime soon. So what are many centres doing to rejuvenate their downtowns? They are attracting people to not only work but to live there. Former stores are turned into apartment buildings and condos thus increasing the critical mass necessary that small boutique businesses can survive on the walk-in business generated.

(6) Don’t paint: Is there anything more unsightly that a derelict building that puts blight on our streetscapes? Many towns and villages have gone to a “clean up or pay up” system whereby landlords are given a reasonable time to make their properties presentable or the municipal unit contracts the repairs and bills the owner. More employment and an enhanced streetscape!

(7) Don’t co-operate: And don’t just pretend you do! When businesses are under financial pressure they have a variety of ways to deal with it, some not very pretty, but necessary.  Rationalization is used and this needs to be done at all levels of government, not just the municipal units. But “bottoms up” is always better than “top down” so local politicians should be encouraged to get busy with their own rationalization before someone on top tells them to do it.

(8) Live in the past: I think we call this parochialism and none of us are immune to it! Living in the “good old days” is very nostalgic but they are gone and we are still here! Change is what brought the first settlers to our shores and only change can sustain us in the future.

(9) Ignore seniors: In most civilizations age and wisdom are revered and the elders of the community are looked up to for their guidance for the next generation. If 60 is the new 40, let’s treat them as such!

(10) Reject everything new: Most of us have realized by now that the typewriter and adding machines are no longer in use and the need to embrace new technology is here to stay. New is not always bad and most times new is better.

(11) Ignore immigrants and outsiders: Although we are a friendly society are we a welcoming and inclusive one? I still hear the term “come from away” too often and it is only by encouraging inward migration that we can reverse the effects of the inevitable outward migration that has been happening for the last 100 years.

(12) Become complacent: “We’ve always done it that way so why change now”? Necessity is the Mother of Invention but it is also the Mother of Re-Invention.

(13) Don’t take responsibility: Yes, we all like to complain! It gives us something to talk about and some think it even makes them look smart! Why do we have problems getting people to volunteer for a good cause or to run for political office? Public service is an honourable undertaking whether it is for profit or not-for-profit. We are a benevolent society when it comes to helping those in need, but the heavy lifting is left in the hands of too few people. The old 80/20 adage works well here with 20 per cent of the people doing 80 per cent of the work!


Faus Johnson is a graduate of Dalhousie University and the University Of Western Ontario Ivey School Of Business. He resides in the Town of Pictou. 

Organizations: Dalhousie University, University Of Western Ontario Ivey School

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Alberta, Toronto Pictou

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