Without exception, the populations in each of the communities that we encounter indicate that retaining their small town values and rural character are their paramount concerns. This creates a couple of interesting lines of thought, the first one being: what are those values? (The second, which will be discussed in a later blog entry, is: How do our actions reinforce or undermine those core values).
Is there a set of universal “small town” values that we, as planners of rural communities, can build on?
I did a Google search for “small town values” to see if anyone had written about the topic. I found a world dominated by Sarah Palin references. She used the term and hinted at what she meant in the line, "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity."
Besides Sarah Palin, in the political sphere, former presidential and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards made small town values a large part of his campaign for the presidential nomination. He listed small town values as: “work, faith, responsibility, family”....perhaps good thoughts, but nobody reading this can be blamed for gagging a little on that, especially the last two.
These values though don’t relate well to planning policy – with all “honesty, sincerity and dignity” as with as with “faith, responsibility and family”, we can advocate for any side of nearly any decision facing a small-town government. Do we pave the road or not? Do we build a library or not? Do we give a tax subsidy to a new business or not? These values are not real helpful in making those decisions.
John Spevak, a columnist for the Los Banos Enterprise in California, wrote on the subject. He listed ten values he has experienced in a small town – I excerpted the ones I felt related to community planning.
· Collaboration – Working together to solve problems.
· Good Business Practices – Businesses that make good decisions over the long-term.
· Reasonable Government – Not big government or small government but good government.
· Good Leaders
· Security – Local public safety
I think Spevak is closer than the politicians. He describes a community in which one not only knows the mayor, but knows the mayor. (To visualize the difference, most small town residents probably knew their mayor when they were in school, running a business or in church – social interactions that tell a lot about someone’s character that can’t be gleaned in a TV or radio ad).
This closeness creates a situation that defies party and often creates a situation where pragmatism wins out over ideology. We want good government – government that works. This is typically not progressive government, at least progressive in the sense of embracing new, unproven ideas. It does tend to mean conservative government, or at least government that is able to justify at the coffee shop nearly every penny it spends.
I would add to these values a couple of others that I have found to be nearly universal.
· Respect for the natural environment, either as a naturalist, hunter or both.
· Fairness – The notion that government should be fair to all residents.
If there are others that should be added to the list, I’d be happy to consider them.
Of course, no blog entry on small town values would be complete without a reference to the Daily Show.