Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Social Growth- What's It All About?

A funny thing happens when you ask the average Alberta municipal politician about the social growth of his or her community. First, they look as lost as a cowboy at a Tupperware party. Finally, they start hemming and hawing and babbling on about the “darn friendly little town we have here”.
He really doesn’t have a clue about what you’re talking about. That’s because he doesn’t see social growth as a key indicator of community development. To him, community growth is all about jobs, new housing starts, and the other economic benchmarks.
The quality of our community’s social life is important. Ask folks in Alberta boomtowns like Fort McMurray or Brooks whether the quality of community life in their communities has improved or declined.
Probe beneath the surface of many communities and you might find the evidence of social decline. Gather information on the incidence of spousal abuse, illicit drug trafficking, and usage. Look at the data on student achievement scores and voter turnout at elections. We might also survey elements of social growth like community friendliness, volunteer participation, and other benchmarks that the community values.
So why don’t more communities compile and publish this kind of data? It’s because they choose – and I use the word deliberately- to ignore data quantifying the state of social harmony, vitality, and citizenship.
Why do we choose to ignore the whole picture? It’s because to see- really see- the evidence of social decline would force us from of the warm, comfy chair of illusion into the cold grip of reality. Even worse, it might compel us to look in the mirror for solutions.
After all, community social growth begins when citizens and businesses take individual responsibility for the quality of social life. For citizens, it means understanding that a living in a free society comes with simple but powerful responsibilities like voting, volunteering, and practicing neighborliness. For business, it means mitigating the negative impacts its operations may have on the social fabric of the community.
How do we begin? It begins with the courage to take a comprehensive look at our community. A community brave enough to identify and quantify its own social growth indicators has taken an important step. From there, they can develop and implement the action plan required to face and resolve social issues. With that underway, they are en route to becoming a truly active, committed, and engaged community.
Where does a community find that courage? It starts with the courageous citizen who sees social growth to be essential to community well-being. How does that citizen drive social renewal? It’s a simple three-step process. That citizen speaks clearly and honestly about community issues, leads by example, and works collaboratively with others to achieve their social goals.
Are you prepared to begin the three-step program towards improving the quality of social life in your community? Are you that kind of citizen? I hope you are, for your community needs you.