One of my closest friends here moved away on Monday. He's following his wife off to great things in Toronto and I'm excited for all of the experiences and opportunities they both have in store.

The last thing we did in Fredericton was walk their patio furniture over to our place, a couple blocks away. I've never moved furniture to a new apartment by foot before. It felt strangely natural, like a row of ants hauling their homes on their backs. Their patio set is a huge improvement over the camp chairs they replaced, not least because I can't sit down now without thinking of good friends.

valuPeople move away all the time and I've never felt compelled to write about it, but this was different. This time I was saying goodbye to people who changed a place. We shared a studio that now feels empty. We collaborated on projects that now feel strangely grown up and disconnected. We lived in a neighbourhood that feels a couple degrees cooler without knowing they are there.

In a small place, people can make a big difference. (Maybe in a big place, a couple people can make a difference too - you'll have to report back to me on that one.) While I'm feeling pretty sad about the whole thing right now, it's also hugely inspiring. Imagine, two people leaving and the town is choked up. We could all bring that kind of value to the place we live.

I can see Strong Citizenship in the space my friend left behind. He was there when you needed him to be, rooting for you (and often bailing you out) when you took on something a bit too ambitious. He would inspire and raise the bar with his own ambitions and made me believe that excellence knows no geography. He was simply a great person who did great work.

It has made me ask the question, "Would people care if I left?" - not in a self-conscious way so much as a reflective one. It's tough to get real with yourself and straight up beg the question "Do I improve this place?" but that is the question we need to be brave enough to ask.


GRACEN JOHNSON works as an urban strategist and communications professional  in The Maritimes. Despite finishing her MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration in 2013, she has never stopped studying the city. Gracen thinks of her day-to-day as participatory action research, diving into the question of how Strong Citizenship can transform a city. She wears many hats exploring that herself, including as the creator and coordinator of an accelerator for small businesses that build community. She also freelances around the vision of "Projects for Places we Love" and has a video blog called Another Place for Me.

This year, Gracen is sharing field notes on her experiences with Strong Citizenship. In this regular column, you'll get snapshots of life as a friendly neighbour in a quintessential Little City that feels like a Big Town.