Last week, we looked at different levels of collaboration needed to build a resilient community. This week, I want to dive a little deeper into regional collaboration or collaboration between towns.
Unfortunately, neighboring communities are sometimes seen as competition rather than another player on the same team. But research is showing that building a resilient community today requires collaboration for mutual benefit. Small towns or cities may not have the resources or amenities to compete with larger cities, but by working together, regional collaboration helps to build a healthy sustainable community.
Each of our towns and cities has its own unique features, history, character, and resources. In fact, if every community looked the same, there would be little reason to go anywhere at all. So, how can we use this to work together for the mutual benefit of the community as a whole? Let’s look at Upper Kanawha Valley in West Virginia.
The towns of Montgomery and Smithers recognized their need for collaboration when they both saw their economies and populations decline. Instead of viewing the town across the river as someone to beat, they decided to work together to benefit the whole community. It started when the two mayors along with stakeholders from both communities formed the Upper Kanawha Valley Strategic Initiative Council.
This group was tasked with finding creative ways that the two towns could intentionally work together to build a stronger community. They started small by sharing some resources, personnel, and equipment. They collaborated on projects. It wasn’t easy, but ultimately they established a partnership with 13 unincorporated towns and villages included.
I can’t help but see the similarities between the Upper Kanawha Valley and the Allegheny River Valley. Even the photos of the area along the Kanawha River show the lush green forest with houses and cottages dotting the shorelines similar to what you see here along the Allegheny. And like it was in Mongomery and Smithers, the population of this region is in decline. Over the last 30 years, except for a few temporary jumps scattered in, the population has been steadily falling. But, today, around the country, we are seeing an exodus from urban areas as remote jobs become more popular. Where are they going? Small Town USA. This should give us hope!
We have what they are looking for. They have a desire for more freedom, more time with family, and safer communities to live in. We have fresh air and recreation opportunities in abundance. And by collaborating regionally, our rural region can meet their other needs too.
If you would like to get in on the collaboration, please join me and other community members for a coffee chat at Divani Chocolatier in Foxburg on Fridays from 1-3 P.M.
Rachel Brosnahan is the Community Engagement Coordinator for River Roots Redevelopment. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.