It’s a new year, and 2018 so far has me thinking a lot about “place;” what it means to have a place, what defines a place, how to create a place. I made a few New Years resolutions; drink less coffee, read more books, play more music, and a few similar goals. One of the more abstract resolutions, however, is to define my place.
Some community projects got me thinking this way. Toward the end of 2017 community organizers from Eaton Rapids started meeting with representatives from Arts Council of Greater Lansing for Create Place events. These small meetings were intended to get people thinking and talking about what defines Eaton Rapids. Similarly, Charlotte’s Rising Tide and Michigan Main Street programs have pushed community organizers to define some of Charlotte’s citizen driven goals; “What businesses do we want here?” “What kind of art should define us?” “What will attract outsiders to our town?”
Looking across the state we’ve seen in the last several years how many state goals were driven by Pure Michigan, seeing what is special about our place and elevating those for outsiders to see. Right now Detroit is trying to redefine its place and its role in the state by investing, adding new attractions, and making a place for new people to flourish.
Creating place is an interesting concept. In many ways it’s perception driven, both inwardly and outwardly. It’s about how we see our place in a community, and how we want others to see our place in a community.
Recently at an Eaton Rapids Rotary meeting my editor and I gave a brief presentation about The County Journal and Flashes newspapers. We talked about history, how local news media is changing, and what our role is in our communities. Although I’ve learned a great deal in my first year and a half working at the newspapers, the presentation was an exercise in balancing reality vs. goals, or who we are currently vs. who we want to be.
Many people look down on the idea of celebrating the New Year and setting resolutions. “It’s just another day, and I’m probably going to break any resolutions I set.” “I have enough motivation at any other point during the year without needing a holiday to change my habits.” I understand those sentiments, and good for those people with being so comfortable where they are.
But if we look at the example of our surrounding communities, we can see that once thriving and flourishing towns can find themselves missing something that used to be present; a driving force or idea that kept the life and motivation flowing through it’s people. Those driving forces and ideas can define a period and a place, but those forces and ideas can also run empty and change over time, and that’s okay.
Individuals and communities are not stagnant. All people and the groups they belong to grow and change over time. The core of people and organizations may stay the same, but different times call for different focuses. Constantly redefining ourselves may be unhealthy, but revisiting and redefining goals is necessary.
So take a look at your communities, your towns, your state, and your country. See how they’re redefining their place. If you feel your place has become stale or too vague to move you forward, define what it currently is and what you’d like it to become.