Recently there have been several discussions on Facebook regarding the current problems of small town America, especially that of Greenfield, Ohio. Almost everyone is aware that there are serious problems but not everyone has a good or realistic idea about how to address the problems.
The arguments and opinions differ and on one side are those who are the dreamers. Their solutions, in my opinion, seem to resemble the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney idea of, “Hey, lets put on a show.” A sort of what we all need is to come together in some sort of kumbaya moment around the camp fire that will heal our wounds.
Another group is more reality based. Several of them have been deeply involved in business and local government, have fought the good fight, and know what forces must be dealt with. This is the side I find myself on. I have been involved in running a business that served Greenfield and I’ve served on and been involved with local government. I have a background in economics, government, and dealing with people.
A third position consist of those who expect someone else to provide a solution. They expect government, some wealthy Daddy Warbucks, or maybe God to come riding in on a white horse and give everyone a silver bullet.
Then there are those who maybe see no solution and have moved elsewhere or can’t wait to, “Get out.” Or maybe they simply given up and given in to some chemical dependency and are just a part of the problem and not the solutions. A lot of despair exist in America’s small towns these days.
During the running Facebook debates one of my daughters asked the question, “What is the answer?”
Well, the answer is serious economic growth, there is no other. Every small town in America has to have a reason to exist. All the smaller burgs around Greenfield once had a reason, to support the local farmers who were working their fields with the same methods being used by today’s Amish & Mennonite residents. Those towns are no longer needed except as bedrooms for larger communities and that is not the best use of space and resources.
Hyde Park, NY is an American small town that is doing pretty well, but not as good as it once was. It once was a bedroom for all those IBM workers in Poughkeepsie, NY. IBM is not what it once was but Hyde Park also attracts lots of tourism. It is the home of FDR and one of the many Vanderbilt mansions. It sits aside one of the most historic and scenic rivers in America and has a history that predates the American Revolution. Hyde Park is also close to some major colleges and universities that represent good paying jobs and an enhanced quality of lifestyle, making it a very desirable place to locate. Most towns don’t have that but, all that are prospering have something akin to it. They have viable employment, natural wonders, important history, good demographics. a geography that is central of population centers, very close proximity to major transportation routes, etc.
I’m sorry, but Greenfield just doesn’t naturally excel in these stated areas. Whatever would attract people and companies to Greenfield has to be something generated or man-made and that takes resources that the community just doesn’t have and is probably not willing to address. People have talked about the town’s proximity to the nation’s population centers and our schools as being attractants. While that may be true it is also true about many other towns in Ohio an neighboring states. The competition for growth in a sluggish and ever changing economy is enormous.
So, the question arises, how does Greenfield set itself apart? How about the citizens of Greenfield voting an additional tax levy on themselves for the sole purpose of community development? A tax that would do three things. First, pay to have the physical appearance of Jefferson and North Washington Streets improved by new sidewalks, curbs, and ornamental trees. Second, assist landlords in the business district to return their store facades to the original theme of the late 1890s in exchange for offering reduced rent plans to existing and start-up businesses. And third, hire a person, or persons, whose sole job would be to go into the world and sell a newly renovated Greenfield to businesses interested in coming to a town that has demonstrated a willingness to invest in itself.
I’m not a resident and it is not my job to sell such a plan to the people. But, I don’t see anyone who is a resident, or who is in village government, making any attempt to do so. Maybe they know what the sad reality is likely to be. But, it certainly would be nice to see the names of some of those who have spoken out on Facebook show up in the local newspapers, having appeared before the village council and asking questions and making suggestions. That’s the only place where a citizen is guaranteed to have their voice heard by their government.
SAVE THIS TOWN