Doing the above two things saves country towns. That’s what Ian Plowman reckons. And it’s based on a pretty interesting piece of research that he’s done called ‘Why some towns prosper while others languish.’ I heard Ian on ABC Radio National on 24th August on ‘Bush Telegraph.’ And his research I think is relevant not only to the obviously important and wonderfully pragmatic issue of ‘how do we keep our country towns alive?’ but to the wider topics of migration and multiculturalism, community development and that somewhat awkward topic of ‘community leadership.’
In looking at the survival of towns he says that size, location and prevailing industry seem to make little difference. He says that: ‘People make the difference.’ What differentiates innovative from non-innovative towns is the percentage of new people. Innovative people he says, move away from places that they do not find attractive and move into places they do find attractive. Now I suppose we could say this of any group but I suspect the point he is seeking to make is that those with ideas, imagination and creative ideas (the very elements which a struggling town might need), tend to move away from places where they do not feel welcome and tend to slow down and look around and possibly stay in the places that do welcome them. Ironically unwelcoming places drive away their existing innovative people.
He says that towns which are most likely to survive are those where there is hope and willingness to invest. (These ideas may sound familiar to anyone who has been looking into the idea of ‘resilience’ lately. And if you want to have a look, I have written a paper about this which you will find on this site under, guess what? Papers!) Ian goes on to say that this willingness to invest comes out of a tolerance for diversity. They, as he puts it, ‘welcome the weirdos.’
In addition to a ‘willingness to tolerate diversity and difference’ a second strong factor emerged. In his research, Ian asked the question: ‘Would other people in your community regard you as a community leader or…as somebody with knowledge and experience that can be called upon if required, or a support person?’ Interestingly those towns with the highest number of community leaders were the least innovative. Those towns that were most innovative had almost none. But they did have a high number from the second category. Those people who, as Ian described them:‘…were willing to get off their bum and do something because they saw it needed to be done, and they didn’t need a title or permission to it.’
Ian’s research I think, is interesting not only for its intended purpose of looking at what helps towns survive, but because his findings point us in the direction of some interesting discussions we might want to have about community development and ‘community leadership.’, both terms used frequently in community work. To say nothing of the larger debates about migration, multiculturalism; ideas about bigotry and racism, cultural sensitivity and what makes for a harmonious world. Good onya Ian.