Sense of community can help keep small towns vibrant

I watched a Christmas movie recently where an underlying theme was a small town’s sense of community.

Change due to development threatened the town’s comfort from old friendships and familiarity with scenic countryside. This movie had a happy ending because a hero managed to keep things the same.

The Northland has experienced change at a quickened pace since World War II and even more dramatic shifts are on the way. Whether the ending is happy or not for some depends on whether a sense of community survives.

Will it be so?

The question is on my mind because of a letter to the editor in last week’s Citizen from Anita M. Vail of Dearborn, Mo. In her letter, Vail decried the lack of attendance at a community festival despite interesting vendors, good food and music from a country band volunteering its time. She wondered if attendance was due to poor advertising. She asked the citizens of Dearborn to “step up the plate and support community betterment.”

I do not know the exact facts behind this event and its attendance, but I do know that in this day and age, it is sometimes difficult to stage a community event and get participation.

The more digital communications and entertainment media are at our fingertips, the less people seem to communicate within the town or neighborhood where they reside. I wonder if people holding church socials and dances in school houses in the early 1900s lamented that the turnout was less than usual after radio arrived?

Media has this hypnotic affect.

We are besieged by sophisticated cultural signals to pay attention and believe that if something is being broadcast, texted, tweeted or streamed than it must be important. Why else would so much worthless trashy content be found on the Internet, cable television channels or in this era even on mainstream network TV? Media has splintered into many varied streams, making even a sense of community among media watchers seem fractured.

The recent presentation of Peter Pan live on NBC on a Thursday night seemed to me an effort to recapture a sense of community from decades past: this is an event; everyone is watching; we’re all here is the feel the show seemed to be trying to achieve.

I remembered watching Mary Martin perform as Pan live in black and white on NBC long, long ago. The new version did not seem very good to me, but I had a nostalgic twinge for the sense of common community.

Vail in her letter about Dearborn’s event wondered if there was adequate public notice and advertising.

Again, I don’t know the facts of this case, but I do know that informing a community about a worthy public event has become quite complicated. Gone are the days when everyone in town reads the same newspaper and listens to a common radio station. There’s always Facebook, but many people don’t do Facebook, including me.

Various other social media exists, but unless there are various connections already made between an organizing committee and the public, it’s a moot point. Young people don’t like e-mail. New forms of social media pop up all the time. Highly-trained and well-paid professionals grapple with this problem in the business world with very mixed levels of success or failure.

I have stumbled into events as a citizen or been assigned to cover them as a reporter. Once there, I’ve found it nice to be with people sharing crafts, food, music, games and experiences. Yet, I know it’s hard to get up and go out the door sometimes in a commuter world where any kind of traveling in off hours begins to feel like work.

But my heartfelt sympathy and support goes out to people who give the time and energy to make public events occur in a town, a neighborhood or a shopping district. They are keeping alive traditions that future generations may rediscover, embrace and make stronger.

A town with community cooperation survives or even thrives; those without wither.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at