As I go about my work of helping communities revitalize and reinvent themselves, I often get to see the best of America and I’m reminded that the foundations that built this country are still just as important today.
It’s long been said that America is all about rugged individualism, and that is true to some extent. Yes, being as self-sufficient as you can be is an admirable trait, but it only takes one so far. People need people in order to really live, and nowhere is that more true than in communities.
Back when our ancestors landed on our shores, they didn’t head off into the woods to build a log cabin singlehandedly. No, they banded together in small communities. They worked together, struggled together, cried together, and celebrated together. They shared what they had when they could—and expected others to do the same for them when they needed help.
Early Americans had to live this way. Otherwise, they would never have survived in this unfamiliar, unforgiving land.
Today, something very similar is happening. We’re in the middle of a massive community revitalization movement. Across America, cities and towns of all sizes are looking to reinvent themselves after a long, hard recession and several chaotic decades that turned their world upside town.
For many communities, globalization and technology reshuffled the deck. Much like our forefathers and foremothers, people found themselves lost in uncharted territory. Jobs disappeared. Unemployment skyrocketed. Infrastructure crumbled. Once-bustling downtowns deteriorated. Young people moved away in search of better lives— and who can blame them.
Now, we’ve collectively decided to look homeward. We’ve decided to bring our communities back from the brink. And we’re not doing it as a nation of rugged individuals. We’re doing it in small, tight-knit groups as we embrace the spirit of cooperation, collaboration, and partnership.
Community leaders, business owners and citizens are deeply engaged and working together, to breathe new life into our downtowns. We’re encouraging entrepreneurs to start new ventures. We’re choosing to eat, drink, play, and shop locally. We’re showing up at street festivals, volunteering, and supporting the institutions that feed, educate, and heal our community.
As I look to communities that are thriving, one thing is for certain— we are still the land of opportunity. People are finding they can still start a business, make a living, and provide jobs to others. While a strong local government is part of every vibrant community, in most cases private industry is the backbone. Thriving local business communities lead to long-term prosperity.
So here is what I believe: Real independence is about working hard, playing hard, building strong relationships with family and friends, and being happy in the place we’ve put down our roots. It’s about choosing the kind of life we want to live. For the most part, this can exist only in the context of community.
This Independence Day, I hope you’ll take a moment to be grateful for your community and reflect on what you might do to make it better. Get involved. Find a cause that speaks to you. Share your ideas. Join together with like-minded neighbors and work to make something happen.
The spirit of community is the spirit that built America. And it’s what will rebuild us as we work together to create our future.
Quint Studer is author of “Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America,” and founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life and moving Escambia and Santa Rosa counties forward. For more information, visit: www.vibrantcommunityblueprint.com and www.studeri.org.