Kailey Sherrick is an Ohio native and writer sharing a guest article today about what it means to be a strong citizen.
They say, “home is where the heart is,” and by “they”, I mean the faceless, amorphous group of people who decided to make this sentence an everyday idiom. Just because it’s an old saying doesn’t mean it’s less true, but I prefer to think that “home” extends far beyond the reaches of your property line. Home is more than just four walls. It’s also your street. It’s your block. It’s your neighborhood, your village, your hamlet, your town, your city. And just like a house requires inhabitants to be a home, a town needs strong citizens in order to flourish.
What is a “Strong Citizen?”
A strong citizen, simply put, is someone who cares. They care about their community, their neighbors, and the place they call home. Strong citizens take pride in the micro as well as the macro, from their front lawn to the city in which they live. This doesn’t mean that they’re a public figure, a politician, or on any special council. A strong citizen is the school teacher who pays out of pocket to keep her classroom supplied. It’s the neighbor up the street who cleaned up an empty lot and turned it into a community garden. It’s the group of kids who organize a pick up game of soccer, or the firefighters who host a summer barbecue.
A strong citizen is anyone who cares about the quirky and unique ecosystem that is their neighborhood. They’re open to the needs of their neighbors, as well as the needs of their town. They contribute however they can to improve the lives of everyone around them, and inspire others to care as well.
Strong Citizens Make Strong Towns
When strong citizens work collaboratively, it can turn a neighborhood full of disjointed families into a thriving community. It’s a ripple effect, with the success of one neighborhood spilling over into others, providing examples and models for others to follow. The first step in this process is for neighbors to get to know one another and notice where neighborhood improvements can be made. These can manifest in remapping roads, cleaning vacant lots, fighting school closures, hosting community events, addressing housing issues, fighting back against concentrated poverty, and being an overall good neighbor.
For example, in Portland, Maine, advocates Nick Aceto and Zack Barowitz are working to lessen the effects of a dangerous highway that cuts through their city and intersects with local streets, causing a web of dangerous intersections, redundant on-ramps, and making it unsafe for foot and bicycle traffic.
Another example of Strong Citizenry comes from Rockford, IL, where Michael and Jen Smith are working to make Rockford a stronger town by getting neighbors involved and fighting against streets that were unsafe to cross, regulatory hurdles facing business owners, and the closing of a neighborhood school.
Yet another example is Tim Wright and his group Re-Form Shreveport, who turned unused public space into a park just by using some logs to prevent erosion and allowing grass to grow. Some might even call this a true “grassroots” movement, if you’ll pardon the pun. They partnered with other local groups, including the boy scouts, local officials, and citizen volunteers to transform this barren area into a lush, safe community space, proving that Strong Citizens don’t need to spend boatloads of money to create Strong Towns.
Becoming a Strong Citizen
The truth is, there’s no concrete formula for what makes someone a “strong citizen.” There’s no list of qualifications because it takes an entire town of strong citizens contributing to their neighborhood, towns, and cities in whatever ways they can, small and large, to truly implement change. Being a strong citizen doesn’t mean you have to march down to city hall while waving petitions in the air. It starts in your living room, on your street, and in your neighborhood. It can start singular and grow into a movement that inspires and encompasses multiple neighborhoods and even cities. But it all starts with you.
Strong Towns has some guiding principles in our mission statement, as well as articles and a podcast which offer ideas, inspiration, and education to help you become involved, but how you choose to be a Strong Citizen is ultimately your decision. Take some time, read stories from fellow Strong Citizens, and get involved in your community however you can. The more Strong Citizens a town has, the stronger the surrounding community will become.
You may already know people in your neighborhood or on your block who have emulated Strong Citizenry. They might be your neighbor, your grocer, or your city councilman.
Do you have someone in your area who exemplifies a Strong Citizen? If so, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
(Top photo source: A Healthier Michigan)
About the Author
Kailey Sherrick lives in Wooster, Ohio and works as a Social Media Manager. She's a recent graduate of the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts (NEOMFA) program, where she earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Besides writing, Kailey enjoys playing softball, gardening, spending time with her family, and being involved in her community.