... Both Rural and Urban
The front page of The Denver Post recently carried a story out of Akron concerning a meeting held by a number of county leaders from the great northeastern plains of our wonderful state. It seems that these good and decent county leaders – many of whom I know and respect – are talking seriously about saying goodbye to the Centennial State, "We're off to see the wizard to form a 51st state." If they have their wish, they are going to wake up one morning and not be in Colorado anymore.
Much of this conflict arises out of a deep-seated rural-urban divide in Colorado that these commissioners and others feel. And, in the business of public policy and politics, perception is reality.
So, what is “rural”? Turns out, rural is very much in the eye of the beholder. There was a really interesting article in the June 8 issue of The Washington Post about this very subject. The federal government has 15 different definitions of “rural,” which I guess ought not to surprise anyone, since Washington cannot seem to agree on the time of day. (Or, if they can concur on the hour, they will likely need to convene a conference committee to decide whether it is AM or PM.)
Speaking for myself, I think rural is very much wrapped up with a sense of community and an attitude of “we can do for ourselves - we don't need a hand out, just a hand up.” This sense of community and individualism is not just in the countryside; it also is very strong in small towns, especially along Colorado's high plains.
One individual who gets things done for his community is Alan Coyne, longtime and most capable town administrator in Julesburg, who just won the prestigious Seven Hats Award from the American Public Power Association. This award recognizes those people who really make things happen in our smaller communities. He is a doer, reflecting that spirit in the great community of Julesburg, one of the crown jewels of northeastern Colorado.
The session “Small Town Solutions, Small Town Heroes” at the recent 91st CML Annual Conference illustrated how whole communities of doers make things possible. Presenters from three towns showed some exciting things to advance a sense of community: Jen Coates, Ridgway town manager; Dan Scalise, Brush mayor, and Marsha Willhite, Holly town manager. They are my heroes. (Download a free CML publication exploring some of the small town solutions..)
Some of these rural friends and neighbors out east, it seems, feel left out, not listened to, and generally disenfranchised. There were a number of issues in the General Assembly this year with which some of the commissioners strongly disagree. I have always felt reasonable people can agree to disagree; they feel their sense of community is threatened and if you can't join 'em, some say you should leave 'em.
Whether or not you agree with their proposed solution is not the issue. What is important is that they feel that what is relevant in their lives doesn't matter to a lot of other people. I think any time a group of the state's citizens feel that way, it deserves to be listened to and respectfully discussed.
How do you discuss a sense of community in your city or town? Do you feel listened to? I would like to know what you think.