In the world of Strong Citizenship, there are rough weeks. This has been one for me, demanding that I trace back the steps of my own philosophy. Right now, I'm struggling with the desire for more people to move here vs. the realization that it's probably not something I should bank on.
Where I live, there's an explicit hope that someday, the world will see how great this place is and people will move here and spend money and talk about their A+ new home and mission accomplished. This sort of rescue strategy is surely not unique to my home.
As it happens, I am one of those migrants that people want to recruit (moved here from big bad Toronto, spend money locally, and talk this place up far and wide). This gives me privileged insight into the shortsightedness of the rescue plan, in concept and execution. And yet, the rescue-us complex is like a mosquito at night, buzzing in my ear. I swat it away, trying to focus; sometimes I'll think I've escaped it entirely and yet it hums up again, this time from a different direction. In my own mind and work, in public dialogues, in meetings and strategy sessions, in late night conversations with friends, there's that damn buzzing - "what if we could attract some really good people here..."
In principal, it's a good management tactic to surround yourself with people that are better than you at something or other. Tragically for the mediocre, there are no shortcuts to the A-league. Even throwing money at people is a myopic, self-destructive approach because of the old "A's attract A's, B's attract C's." Those talented people who are mobile want to be around other talented people doing good stuff in a good place. They can sniff out the phonies before you can say "rebranding campaign." The challenge is to showcase that A-game, while remaining authentic.
This challenge can be met, but again, it's been one of those weeks where my mind is its own biggest critic and it's too cold out to feel optimistic, so I'm just going to go there and let this consciousness flow. Here is my internal battle right now.
- We do realize pretty much every place on earth is trying to attract talented people, right? How does that work on a global scale?
- Truthfully, why would people choose this place over another? Not that there aren't reasons, but let's not pretend we're hyper competitive on brains, beauty, sustainability, amenity, or convenience.
- Is attracting people a means or an end? What does the end look like?
- Or is this just an easy distraction to avoid the hard work of improving ourselves?
I am weary of this conversation. I am weary of people's gratitude that I'm helping "rebrand the province," which makes my real affection for the place feel mercenary and wrong.
And yet, I love this place for a hundred reasons that have nothing to do with strategy sessions and public dialogues. And I DO want people to come here to share and enrich our happy lives. I DO want people from other cultures to move in and feel valued and welcomed by our warm people. I wish very much that some kind of purpose or calling would carry my university friends here so that we could all play a more active role in helping each other do good work. I wish my parents and brothers would move here too so we could all be happy together.
Fredericton is a happy place for me not because it's an exceptional city by any reported metric, but because it has gifted me with relationships and experiences that fill me right up. I want to share those relationships and experiences with other people and Fredericton is my conduit for that. It's a great place to be! Nothing makes me happier than working alongside other people with a sense of purpose.
So I guess there is a recruitment strategy I can get behind; getting people to a happy place. A city can change its attitude from desperation to generosity - not Help us! so much as How can we help you?
Has your city advanced beyond a rescue-us strategy? How did they do it?
GRACEN JOHNSON is a communications designer living in The Maritimes. While she finished 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 trying to crack that nut herself, including as the designer 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.