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Taking a Closer Look

The Secrets of Successful Communities – Part 7: Have Strong Leaders and Committed Citizens

Successful communities have strong leaders and committed citizens. A small number of committed people can make a big difference in a community. Sometime these people are longtime residents upset with how unmanaged growth has changed what they love about their hometown. Others times, the leaders might be newcomers who want to make sure that their adopted hometown doesn’t develop the same ugliness or congestion as the one they left. More often than not, they’re simply citizens who care a great deal about their community.

An example of a citizen who made a big difference is Jerry Adelman. Jerry grew up in the small town of Lockport, Illinois. Almost single-handily Jerry created the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor which helped restore an abandoned canal linking Lockport with Chicago. Adelman’s success at building local support for the canal convinced Congress to add the canal corridor to the national park system.

Editor’s Note: Take a Six Minute Break & Listen to The Illinois and Michigan Canal Song by Ray Tutaj Jr.

What about the Naysayers?

Three_Old_GrouchesEvery community has naysayers. Whatever the civic or community leaders propose to do, some people will always say things like: “you can’t do it,” “it won’t work,” “it costs too much,” “we tried that already.” And, “no,” is a very powerful word in a small community, but leaders of successful communities know that “yes” is a more powerful word. Yes, we can make this town a better place to live in, to look at, to work in, to visit.

A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. An optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.

Summing Up:

We live in a rapidly changing world. In his new book, The Great Reset, author Richard Florida says that “the post-recession economy is reshaping the way we live, work, shop and move around.” He goes on to predict that “communities that embrace the future will prosper. Those that do not will decline.”

One big change is that people and businesses can now choose where to live or operate a business. In today’s world, communities that cannot differentiate themselves will have no competitive advantage. This means that quality of life is more important than ever.

Successful communities know that sameness is not a plus. It is minus. Successful communities set themselves apart. They know that communities that choose their future are always more successful than those that leave their future to chance.

Download all seven parts of The Secrets of Successful Communities in a single pdf file (note: the pdf does not include the several embedded videos)

photo of Ed McMahonEditor’s Note: Ed McMahon is one of the country’s most incisive analysts of planning and land use issues and trends. He holds the Charles Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC. McMahon is a frequent speaker at conferences on planning and land development. Over the past 21 years, we’ve been pleased to have published more than two dozen articles by McMahon in the Planning Commissioners Journal, and now on