Someone recently posted an item on Facebook that called Marion a dying city. That got my attention. I’ve been around Marion since 1970. Clearly Marion isn’t the same city it once was. But is our city’s future really dimmer than our past?
This year my wife and I have hosted several dozen community leaders in our home on the Indiana Wesleyan University campus. We’ve welcomed business, education and non-profit leaders, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, white and African-American leaders.
We enjoy a meal together, and then we talk about our aspirations for Marion. These conversations reveal a lot of agreement. We are all committed to Marion’s success. We all hope for better days. We all believe in Marion’s future.
Declining cities face daunting challenges. When businesses and institutions close, people make less money and become more vulnerable. In time, health and social problems rise. Social cohesion breaks down. Citizens become apathetic, withdrawn and antagonistic toward each other.
Home and business owners stop taking care of their properties. Neighborhoods become less attractive. With dwindling tax revenues city infrastructures deteriorate. People drive to other communities to shop, eat out and entertain themselves. Young families move away. It becomes even harder to attract new residents and new businesses to the city. Slowly, a city slips into decline.
Some cities never make it back. A few do. In his book, The Coming Jobs War, James Clifton (CEO of Gallup) outlines key steps cities take to climb out of decline.
Thriving cities have a plan.
First, they find local solutions. Struggling cities often look elsewhere for help. But no one cares about our city more than we do. Smaller-scale solutions that promote local people, local businesses and local community organizations serve as the building blocks to longer-term solutions. To revitalize our city we must own our future. We must think local.
Second, good, meaningful jobs are a primary foundation for a thriving city. People need good jobs as outlets for their creativity and as the means to secure their families’ well-being. Gallup’s research shows that in order to attract good companies and great jobs the whole city must “wage a war for jobs.”
The truth is, Marion is competing against other communities for good jobs. We love it when our Marion Giants win a tough basketball game. We must be just as passionate about Marion’s ability to win good jobs for our community.
Third, the city’s efforts must be aligned. Declining cities are fragmented cities. They have fewer organizations that encourage inclusive discussions and collaborative solutions. Declining cities struggle to identify a shared vision for the future. Hope dissipates and cynicism rises.
Soon, people forget how much they need each other, how much an enjoyable, attractive city is created by the many small ways that citizens invest in each other and in their neighborhoods. Cities that climb out of decline find ways to align all of their strategies and efforts toward recreating attractive, hopeful, vibrant communities.
Thriving cities work as a team. Together they take pride in their properties. They improve their schools. They support local businesses. They encourage and support great local non-profit organizations.
Thriving cities have community leaders and elected officials who are forward thinking, who work together to create a comprehensive plan for the future, then to do the hard work to pursue that plan relentlessly.
I don’t believe Marion is a dying city. With a good plan and hard work our city’s future can be even brighter than our past.