When a place feels like home it’s a treasure. But all homes need maintenance.
I was born in a city but moved to a small town when I was very young. As I grew the town’s population exploded. When I started kindergarten, we had one small high school, but by the time I graduated from the new second high school, graduating class sizes for both high schools ran in the 400-500 range. The next year there was a third high school; I went off to college and never went back. That town grew too fast to feel like a home to me. I hope it feels like home to its current couple hundred thousand souls.
Some Treasure Valley communities in SW Idaho are struggling with such rapid growth. But many small Idaho towns are getting smaller. In most of these towns their populations are getting older on average. The economic effect, then the cultural affect is clear. Older residents often rely on fixed incomes called “transfer payments” (retirement income, Social Security, disability benefits) and they see taxes as a threat instead of an investment. Without investment and maintenance small towns crumble and shrink.
These aging, shrinking towns often struggle to fund their schools and infrastructure since such investment requires citizens to see the value of such expense, and be able to afford investing in it.
But investment doesn’t always come out of your bank account. Planning, organizing, communicating, and just showing up are worthy investments to make a place feel like home.
One of the blessings of public service is learning about new things. In my first year in the Idaho legislature I got appointed to the Idaho Rural Partnership Board. I had no idea such an entity existed, but there you go, I’m now on the Board. Before my first meeting (in downtown Boise) I asked a fellow board member why we didn’t meet in a rural town. “Oh, nobody would come,” was the quick answer. I started my IRP service with a jaundiced eye. But I learned some things.
The most valuable service offered by the IRP is the community reviews. These are all available for your reading on their website. St. Maries had one done in 2006, Plummer in 2017; they do about three a year in every corner of the state. They are a lot of work, lots of meetings and tours with local leaders, businesses, community members.
I would encourage you to read your “Community Review” if you haven’t. This isn’t out of town experts coming to give the locals their wisdom. The value comes when a community speaks up, reflects on its needs and character. And the best part is, each community does this work itself. Or, it could just talk about it for a day or two, then not do anything. That’s why looking back at these reviews after a few years is quite helpful.
If towns feel like home, can sustain their residents and support the community, I call that thriving. Don’t expect Boise or Washington DC to have answers if you think your town needs a boost. It will be your efforts that make your town great again.