Tsunami on the Prairie

As the adage goes, if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump out. But if you put that same frog in a pot of room temperature water and gradually heat the water, the frog will stay in the pot until it’s cooked. As the current disaster in Houston plays out, the response we’ll see will be like the “frog in the boiling pot.” There’s no disputing those affected by the hurricane have major problems, but they’re acting even as you’re reading this to put things back together.

I live in Montana, a rural state. We are facing demographic issues that are the textbook definition of “the frog in the room-temperature water” (actually more warm now) and the burner is on. Minor statistical changes from year to year receive little more than a note in the back third of an article in the newspaper. But what these statistics tell us is irrefutable. Rural populations are skewing older and for the most part people are living longer. And with living longer comes more health issues, especially chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart conditions. Combine that with fact the overall population of rural America (all ages) is not increasing. In other words, there is and will be more people who will need care – and fewer people to do the caring.

If those demographic realities weren’t enough, we have the actions (or should I say lack of actions) by governmental entities in rural states. Most rural states are run by politicians hell-bent on low taxes and not spending money. Their older constituents increasingly have more needs and their representatives are more concerned with maintaining an ideology that placates the most vocal (and often extreme) members of their party. Too often these unmet needs result in despair, depression and isolation. Being old and geographically spread out is a bad combination and a prescription for mental maladies. In fact isolation is now the number one health issue in America amongst the elderly. And it’ll get worse if we don’t confront it head on. What rural America is seeing is an increase in demand for the exact services that are being cut and de-prioritized.

Even if state and local governments aren’t going to provide adequate assistance for this increasing needy segment of the population – at least it wouldn’t it be prudent to help create the environments required to attract the young people needed to assist the elderly – regardless of their ability to pay? Not only do they provide the bulk of caregivers (along with those of diverse ethnic backgrounds), the civic amenities young people value are the exact ones that benefit an aging population, whether they support them or not. For example: farmers markets and ample produce championed by Millennials are crucial to well-being later in age: and parks and common areas provide the activities and stimuli needed to counter both physical and cognitive decline.

Unfortunately most governments in rural towns and cities don’t make attracting Millennials (and immigrants) a priority. In fact, often their actions have the opposite affect. In Billings, Montana, where I live – the city government refuses to pass a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) to protect the rights of gay people. Gay rights are probably the number one issue for Millennials, regardless of their own sexual preference. It shows a community values inclusion. “We’re all different in some way and if the community we lives in hates one person for their difference, who’s to say tomorrow they won’t hate me for mine.”  Any city who chooses to go down this path of discrimination (regardless of the bogus rationalization) will do so at their own peril … all while their “old people” will have no one to take care of them. Not only will new young talent not want to move in … the top talent that was raised there will be lining up for tickets on the first bus out of town. What will be left is a community of hate and exclusion, with the few outliers who haven’t or can’t leave, being pushed into the shadows to scavenge any civic crumbs left by the so-called city leaders. Welcome to the slow-burn of a dystopia in the making.

What I described above is a Perfect Storm facing rural communities throughout America; thus the title of this piece, “Tsunami on the Prairie.” Not all is dire though. We can still get out of the pot before it’s too late. But our biggest obstacle is ourselves, led by those we’ve put in positions of power and influence: those we too often rely on to map our futures. Much like the road to recovery for any addict, step one is acknowledging that’s there’s a problem. Rural America, and I speak specifically to where I live, can’t afford to ignore the ominous clouds rolling in. These clouds and what they bring won’t just pass over. They’ll keep coming until there’s little left.

Abandon small town

Once we accept our demographic destiny and that fact our political malfeasance can’t continue – we can begin the battle. It’s a battle that will require all hands in the community to work together, regardless of ideology or political affiliation. It’ll require we focus on inclusion and the embrace of outliers, those different than us. We don’t know where the next Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Jennifer Lawrence or Chance the Rapper will come from. But chances are they’ll be the ones who were disenfranchised and looked at with indifference. These are the people who will have the ideas we need and drive to put them in play. As Albert Einstein famously said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” And much of the time this same thinking comes from the same people we too often rely on. To face this Perfect Storm, your community will need new ideas and new people to rise in the heat of battle.

The Norwegians have a word, dugnad – that can best be described as a type of civic and communal mindset where people get together and volunteer to fix, clean, paint or tidy things up for the betterment of their community. Dugnads are organized in neighborhoods, at summer homes, marinas, even at schools and especially places of work. It can be summed up as a time of coming together and contributing. In America one can see these dugnads as being small businesses or what I call Front Porches. This network of local merchants, their employees and their patrons are the people who want to change the status quo; people who want to pull the best from those around them and make it the future … not just look for differences. These Front Porches, while now probably just local hangouts, will be become hubs of civic engagement and volunteerism.

The Front Porch’s primary role is to identify community Solutions projects, whether they be in response to needs or opportunities. These Solutions are designed to help your community pick up the slack and mend its societal safety net as well as lead it into the future. They can range from organizing a cleanup effort, to fixing a playground, to even spearheading a high school mentoring or apprentice program. And most of all – these Solutions can be directed towards helping the elderly.

Imagine creating a program – call it: “I’m Not Alone Anymore.” This program, based out of a local business or Front Porch, would assist an elderly person with not only their physical needs but also provide emotional support by giving them an avenue back into the community. Even if just means a weekly visit for a cup of coffee … these people will no long be feel isolated … or alone.

Helpers (customers and employees) will organize through community network of Front Porches (local businesses). The first step will be to identify the elderly (Clients) needing that little extra help (physically or just emotionally). They can be found directly or through referrals. Each Client will be entered into a central database that Helpers will have access to. The database will include information such as contact information, medicines, favorite foods and activities, and anything else that can be used by the Helper to improve the lives of the Client. Also included will be contact activity data; date of last visit, schedule date of next visit and relevant information concerning these dates. The database will also provide an informed point of reference for anyone that might have to step in for the primary Helper should they not be able to visit. 

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing engagement. The more engaged our residents are … the more empowered they would be. They would feel more in control of their health and their futures. Imagine if a chance to engage, whether it was physical, mental or social was just around the corner. And what if opportunities to help others realize the same were part of the fabric our daily lives. What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy. What if our neighborhood was our safety net, a safety net that knew best in our time of need. And what if the streets of our community became melting pots of serendipity – places where curiosity was bred and benevolence was the norm. And what if engagement, well-being and self-efficacy was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through the one-dimensional filter of irrelevant statistics.

From this hands-on street-level altruism will come your community’s vision – a Vision Map of sorts. You and your neighbors will see directly what’s needed and what works, rather than blindly following a plan cobbled together by elected officials who may or may not be qualified vote on such a plan – let alone construct one. From devising and implementing Solutions, your community will find out who the true leaders are – not just the ego-driven politicians. You will see who is tirelessly mission-driven and able inspire those around them to be the same. You’ll see expertise and imagination come from the least likely places. You’ll build your community’s talent pool, rather than continually leaning on the same people time after time, board member after board member. Consider this map a guide of sorts for an evolved society … the society I call Community 3.0

None of this is revelationary. This is not a magic pill that will make everything and everyone in your community better. What this is a wake up call. We’ve laid out your clothes and turned on the coffee pot. And maybe we’ve even started your car and got it warm for you. But it’s up to you to get to work and make it happen. Too often we stare at our cable news channels obsessing over the government and who we should or should have votes for. We expect the government to heal whatever ails us. You’d think we’re locked in medieval times living a serf-like existence dependent on the scraps our lords in the towers above toss out to us. Instead I offer an alternative – one of collective self-determination, altruism and a self-transcendent focus on our neighbors.

Ironically some of the most independent people in the country, people who are used to back-breaking work in the cruelest of weather have no qualms complaining the government isn’t giving them enough. I see it and hear it everyday. It’s easy to affix blame when we see others prosper in comparison to us (whatever that reason may be). And much of the blame is directed towards those on the coasts. Whether or not rural areas are short-changed is not the issue; even though statitistics show it’s probably the latter. But still we have to blame someone. But for those of us who live in small or rural communities – the luxury of blame isn’t an option. Neither is circling the wagons and focusing on how far back our rural lineage goes. You’d think the generationally deeper our rural roots go – supposedly the more worthy we are of living here. It’s this thinking (if you call it that) that hastens the demise of the very communities we so ardently aim the protect. 

Our real enemy, the tsunami of demographics and governmental malfeasance rural America faces, is banking on the fact that we will continue think outsiders and the ideas they bring are the demons coming the change our idyllic lifestyle firmly rooted in the past. We must prove this storm wrong … or we will perish in our myopic naiveté.

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“Cross-pollination” and Creating Your Own Renaissance

A few years ago, when I still lived down in Los Angeles, I was on my morning walk through West L.A. when I ran across a homeless man collecting cans and bottles from a dumpster. I stopped and we talked for about for fifteen minutes.

We talked about a lot things; the weather, the BP oil spill and eventually the economy. His take on the economy was that he thought things were getting worse, rather than better – as what we’d been hearing from the news media. “How did you come up with that?”  I asked him.

“Well I see more cheap brand cans in the garbage than I used to. Even last year when things were supposedly worse, people still drank Coke and Budweiser. But now it’s changed.”  It’s Shasta and Natural Light.

His astute observation was definitely not a perspective I wouldn’t have gotten through my normal channels. But it made sense – and for this locale it was probably more accurate than any economics professor would have come up with a few blocks down the street at UCLA.

Dumpster

The Medici Effect … circa 2015

At the end of the Dark Ages, during the 13th century, poets, artists, painters, sculptors and the like came to Florence, Italy to study and collaborate thanks to patronization of the wealthy Medici family.  Those sponsored by the Medicis included  Ficino, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Galileo, Boticelli and Michelangelo. Many scholars believe this melding of different backgrounds and disciplines ushered in a significant portion of the Renaissance.

Imagine if we used this same cross-pollination strategy of  backgrounds and experiences to create environments like this today. Maybe we won’t see Renaissance figures on the scale Galileo and Michelangelo, but for our communities it could significantly change the welfare and wellbeing of us and our fellow inhabitants.

“We need a marriage ceremony between the humanities and social and behavioral studies. Only then will we be able to start solving real-life problems in these disciplines.” ~ Thomas Scheff (UC Santa Barbara)

Every fall Mayo Clinic, one of the most acclaimed medical facilities in the world, conducts an innovation conference to explore how ‘people power health’ can redefine the dynamics of health and health care. This conference isn’t just for medical professionals, rather it’s cross-discipline. Not only are people from other industries and interests allowed to attend … they are encouraged. Mayo routinely collaborates on processes and strategies with other Minnesota corporate giants such as Target, Medtronic and Best Buy to achieve higher levels of customer service and hopefully satisfaction. Mayo Clinic treasures the value of cross-pollination. 

“People bring different cultures, backgrounds, and personalities to the table — and those differences shape how they think. Some people are analytical thinkers, while others thrive in creative zones. Some are meticulous planners, and others love spontaneity. By mixing up the types of thinkers in the workplace, companies can stimulate creativity, spur insight, and increase efficiency.” ~ Deloitte (Business Insider)

The benefits of cross-pollination extends past the corporate world also. In the excellent Vanity Fair piece, “An Oral History of the Laurel Canyon,” Linda Ronstadt articulated the societal benefits, “The good thing about musicians in terms of making advances in racial discrimination or sexual-gender identification is that musicians don’t give a shit as long as you can play. If you could play, hallelujah.”

But to cross-pollinate ourselves we have to expose ourselves and create relationships with people we wouldn’t otherwise. Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to do the same things, associate with same type of people and be influenced by the same sources as we always have. Strength comes in diversity and the synthesis of this diversity. On the contrary, if we limit our exposure; social, professional and politically to only those like us … we only further entrench our beliefs and ideologies.

Adherence to the status quo is a habit. Some aspects of the status quo are fine, and change for the sake of change can often be problematic. But even more than ever, the ability to not only accept change, but embrace it is a mandatory life skill.

Resistance to change is a very broad ‘habit’ to try to break. It’s composed of a multitude of components. And that’s how it needs to be addressed, one component at a time. You can’t change everything at the same time.

Gradually, block by block, this ‘doing the same thing, the same way, at the same time’ can be chipped away at. Even changing the time you get up in the morning or go to bed at night is a step. Change what you eat for breakfast, the route you take to work and even the method you get to work. Just taking public transportation when you normally drive can be a huge change. Eventually, this phobia of ‘the different’ will become less debilitating. And maybe even change will become exciting, something to look forward to … not fear.

Now is the time to get out of your comfort zone

If you are a doctor, hang with a plumber. If you’re white, talk to a black person. Take the bus sometimes (no – people on buses don’t bite). If you live on the west side, have dinner on the east side. And most of all if you’re old (yes Boomers you are old) … get some insight from someone young – someone that’s not your own kid.

Our brains are nothing more than synaptic connections which are built and strengthened through habitual activity and thought. Build some new ones. God only knows we could use more.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.” ~ Steve Jobs

The two sides of a mind

Sociology of the American neighborhoods and ‘Extreme Empathy’

The French political philosopher Alex de Tocqueville theorized that the concept of American township and its extension, the neighborhood, was the reason for the envied American exceptionalism of the 1800 and 1900s. In Europe people resided around common characteristics such as language or ethnicity.

“But beneath it all, our history of broad inclusion is not rooted in some blithe paean to the American generosity of the American spirit. Rather, like the foundation for America’s economic ingenuity and political accommodation, our commitment to melding new and different people together was forged in the rhythms of everyday life.

Townshipped community was unparalleled in assimilation because neighbors weren’t able to avoid one another; quite the opposite, they were frequently compelled to become codependent. The very essence of American exceptionalism was born from the architecture of American community.

It’s impossible to overstate how important our unique sociology has been to the nation’s dynamism. In the United States, our “little platoons,’ Edmund Burke’s term for the contacts who comprised the core of any individual’s social universe (that is middle rings) – were organized around the diversity of people who lived nearby – the people who comprised the local townships.

In Europe, by contrast, the network of people who shared the same class or language or profession were more likely to define any individual’s contacts. And so America’s exceptional capacity to metabolize the infusion of new ideas, new cultures, and new populations wasn’t derived by some commitment to inclusion. America has been unique in its social fluidity. Even with all the blatant counter examples, through most of the 20th Century, American were relatively unencumbered by division. Life in the United States provided citizens with an unusual degree of access and exposure.” ~ Marc Dunkleman, “The Vanishing Neighbor”

To forget this phenomenon and not take advantage of it is a great disservice. Of course we look at this as an advantage for the community. But first we open our mind individually and let these different views and experiences in.

A community is the product of its people. Diversity is an advantage if not a necessity. A community is a living thing, a microcosm, and a lack of diversity makes itself open to disease (metaphorically speaking). Social inbreeding creates a weak species, vulnerable to adversaries, internally and externally. And a community that only relies on past thinking will not be able to combat the problems of the future.

Every member of your community is unique and adds to its fabric. Everyone has something to offer and everyone should be heard – no matter their age or social standing. It’s up to us to find it and help them see it. To view our neighbors and fellow community dwellers like this I call, “Extreme Empathy.” “Extreme Empathy” is the basis of my vision for the new evolution of the physical living space, Community 3.0.

Now is time focus on inclusion, not retreat into ‘personal protectionism.’ Resist the temptation of “sameness.” Step outside your comfort zone. You’ll never know what lies on the other side.

And who knows … maybe your next source of inspiration may come next to a dumpster.

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If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

Is Your Community Investing in its ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’?

Two days ago I opened the newspaper to a proclamation that President Obama was proposing a $478 billion public works infrastructure revitalization program. This is no surprise to me. The word infrastructure has been bantered around for the last few months as we ready ourselves for yet another chapter in book of the endless presidential election cycle. “America is losing its edge and is in jeopardy of loosing its vaulting status as the ‘Exceptional One.'” Reminds of the Eddie Murphy movie of the ’80s, “The Golden Child.” No matter how misguided it may bewe must protect and sacrifice for the infrastructure.

The previous chapters have been dedicated to the illusion that education reform would be the savior protector. Now with the not so stellar result results of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top,’ the fleeting attention span of the electorate has been redirected to building things. Not so much new things per se, but rebuilding old things; highways, bridges, pipelines, maybe some electrical lines and transmitters, but mainly stuff revered in support of the almighty automobile. Eisenhower’s corpse six feet under probably has a smile on its face. And believe it or not – as I’m writing this on comes a commercial for NASCAR on Spotify (apparently I’m too cheap to spend the eight bucks a month).

Earlier this week I wrote an open letter to state of North Dakota, where I grew up. Their legislature approved a 800+ million infrastructure bill to rebuild the what the oil industry has decimated in the short time since the oil boom began a few years ago. The state is going to build more roads on top of the ones they’re planning on rebuilding. Dirt roads will get paved and two lane roads will turn into four lane roads. They’re going fix bridges and build overpasses and new sewer systems and whatever else they figure out they can use a backhoe on. Oh, they’ll be some new schools too. After all, those people doing the digging and building need a place to put their kids while they’re doing all that digging and building.

And if it’s not enough for public municipalities to do the building, they’ll be  handing the keys to the city to outside corporate conglomerates in hopes they will be the proverbial “white knight, in the white hat on the white horse” by doing more building. Seldom, if ever, does this work out though. Civic planning textbooks (which apparently aren’t read) are littered with a plethora of stories of corporate subsidies pledged in return of promises of “jobs.” Oh that word “jobs;” it’s as intoxicating as the snake with the apple in the garden of Eden (if you believe in those things). But the apple and the snake … they didn’t work out either. But it doesn’t matter if politicians can say they’re working to provide “good jobs for good hard-working folks.” Look at the craziness we’ve had to endure with the two years of Keystone Pipeline debate. If you’re a politician from anywhere close to where the proposed pipeline is running nasty carcass – you’re touting “jobs.” It doesn’t make any difference that there’s only going to be thirty of these full-time “jobs,” it’s still jobs.

And it doesn’t matter what politicians are doing the talking. They could be Democrat or Republican. They could be federal, state or local. They just can’t help themselves. It’s like crack to them, no  matter the quality.

Coffee Shop posterize

 This insanity has to stop

Now I’m all for “jobs.” But it seems all these jobs being talked about are pretty much the same, as I said “good jobs for good hard-working folks.” This is fine, but not everyone wants to work ‘hard.’ And by hard I mean ‘blue collar hard.’ And I’m willing to bet that a lot of those doing the ‘blue collar hard’ jobs are doing them because they don’t really have any other option. Given the chance I’m sure they wouldn’t mind using their mind instead. Trust me, money or not, it no fun working outside in North Dakota in the winter.

Information technology and the internet have changed work opportunities dramatically. However, few of these opportunities are being taken advantage of in places like North Dakota and other states that are composed primarily of small and medium-sized towns and cities. These ‘new economy’ opportunities are seen mainly in urban areas. But it’s not like they couldn’t be distributed more equitably. These opportunities are not geographically bound. Unfortunately few leaders in the public space understand the real potential here. They are myopically focused on getting the most ‘bang for their buck’ with that new backhoe they proudly acquired for the city.

Apple created $10 billion in revenue for third-party application developers for the iPhone and iPad in 2014 alone. That’s more than all of Hollywood generated. And these developers can live anywhere, even in their parent’s basement in Devils Lake, North Dakota. How much of this flowed to North Dakota or states like that. I don’t know, but probably not much.

The ‘Nomad Economy’ is what I call the makeover of this new workforce. These are people, (mainly young but not entirely) who are either self-employed or own small businesses. It’s estimated that by the year 2020, forty percent of America’s workforce will be freelancers. These are NOT the jobs doing the building and digging in the traditional sense. Most of the digging these people do is digging in their minds and figuring out how to navigate the future which is ever evolving and so much less stable than that of their parents. “Holding onto yesterday” and expecting the life of the long-term corporate employee is no longer an option, or preferred.

Introducing the ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’

Even though the ‘Nomad Economy’ is not geographically constrained, it still requires infrastructure. But it’s not the infrastructure you would think. It’s more of a ‘Cerebral Infrastructure.’ By this I mean accommodation for the physical and mental spaces these self-employed, small business owners or ‘Nomads’ need to congregate, collaborate and create – molding the future for themselves and those around them. Schools can help, but they’re only a part of the solution. We need to look past tradition and what worked in the past to now and beyond. What might have worked a decade ago, may be obsolete today, let alone tomorrow. This is time for elected officials and those they appoint to starting asking questions more relevant than the one they asked even five years ago.

  • Do their cities and towns have co-working HUBs designed to nurture entrepreneurial dreams and turn them into job generating start-ups?
  • Do they have the bikeways, parks, public transportation and community gathering places Millennials, the bulk of the ‘Nomad Economy,’ require?
  • Do they have Makerspaces; places where younger and older generations can learn from each other using 3D printers, laser cutters and CAD (computer aided design) technology to make the unimaginable a reality?
  • Is Twitter prominently used both in the public and private spheres where thoughts and collaborations know no international boundaries?
  • Are there state and local sponsored efforts to not only encourage, but assist financially with these collaborations? Or are they looked at with disdain … as something that comes from where elsewhere and doesn’t belong in its revered culture from the past?
  • Do state and local municipalities utilize technology that involve residents in civic decisions and corresponding operations?
  • Are today’s cities, towns and states collaborating with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to solicit ideas on how to make its residents leaders in the realities of the new Nomadic economy?
  • Are they creating contests to attract the best ideas from their best people to build their communities in ways that will benefit all its residents (not just the few in its primary industries)? And do these contests provide financial rewards and mentoring assistance?
  • And are their communities places where the country’s best and brightest would want to move to, to use not just their hands – but their minds; and not only use their minds for others, but to build companies of their own? If it’s not … then why not?

Imagine taking a portion of the money used for roads, curbs, gutters used to reinforce the idolization of the automobile. This money could be used to create a ‘Division of Cerebral Infrastructure.’ North Dakota has a state-owned entity called the Bank of North Dakota. Other states, and even local governments could do the same thing. Not everything has to go through Bank of America or Wells Fargo or Citibank or any other of those blood sucking Wall Street devils that have none of your residents’ wellbeing in mind.

Current I live in Montana. The state has a coal fund that grants or loans money (I’m not sure of the exact details) to businesses based in the state. In theory this is all well and good. In practice … not so much. You see Montana’s coal fund requires any recipient business to back it with collateral. That’s good for brick and mortar businesses like casino/convenience stores and car dealers that ironically don’t provide any real benefit since they just cannibalize other local businesses. But it’s not good for ‘new economy’ businesses and the self-employed like the ones Apple paid $10 billion to last year. It’s also is not good for ‘new economy’ firms like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and the ‘Nomads’ they provide opportunities to. These firms and those like them have raised ten of billions of dollars in venture capital over the last couple years.

This new ‘Division of Cerebral Infrastructure’ can’t act like a bank though. It has to act like a venture capital/private foundation morph. This division’s goal is not to make money directly though. It’s to help generate third-party economic activity which will in turn generate benefit for the community, some directly financial, but most in indirectly as a private business stimuli and resident wellbeing costs savings.

This concept is called obliquity: “the best way to achieve a goal when you are working with a complex system is to take an indirect approach instead of a direct one.”

From competition to ‘Resource Maximization’ using the multiplier effect

The fun part of this ‘project’ would be generating the ideas from the public. The “Division of Cerebral Infrastructure” could hold an annual contest with the applicant projects being voted on by the public via the web. A similar vision of this was implemented by LA2050, a non-profit initiative in Los Angeles that gave away $1 million in grants to winning projects focused improving and transitioning the city to the year 2050. Your community could do the same thing only on a more applicable scale (large or smaller). And the LA2050 people might even give you some advice setting it up (if you asked nicely).

If the public has to vote on it, then the presentations would have to be visually attractive and able to concisely communicate the vision of creators and the benefits to the public. Picture these like the way Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects present themselves. Maybe a contest like this would even bring back some expatriates who jumped the metaphorical ship for greener pastures elsewhere like the urban areas that do offer what they require. And imagine if projects that weren’t funded directly, gained attention and were financially ‘kickstarted’ via other means. Just another example of obliquity. This could go on and on once it got started. In fact, it would be hard to stop –especially if the contest became an annual affair.

When I was at school at the University Of North Dakota, my microeconomics class taught me about bank reserve multipliers. Every dollar put in a bank supposedly generates ‘x‘ times that in economic activity via loans, etc. And by depositing money in the “Division of Cerebral infrastructure” and investing or granting it locally this multiplier concept could become a reality that takes place in every community in the state. Imagine $100 million magically turning into a half of billion dollars. No offense to roads and bridges, but you ain’t seeing that kind of return in traditional infrastructure improvements.

Street fair posterize

But if you have to make physical improvements, don’t make everything so car-centric. The Millennial generation, the foundation of this new Nomad economy, wants bike paths and sidewalks and trees. They want ‘places.’ They want their towns, cities and neighborhoods designed for them and their fellow residents … not for cars. They don’t want to be an afterthought, a nuisance to the automobile culture of their parents and grandparents. Hell, maybe their parents and grandparents would even like these new ‘places’ too given the opportunity.

If a city doesn’t provide these amenities (or actually basics), they have NO hope of retaining their ‘best and brightest’ – let alone attracting them from elsewhere.

No matter the state, all cities, all towns and all neighborhoods are the same

ChangeYourMind

This conversation should be had in every state, every city and every neighborhood in this country and abroad. To rely on the same thinking that caused many of the issues we face today is a prescription of ‘more of the same.’ “Trying to solve traffic problems by building more roads is like trying to solve obesity by buying bigger trousers.” It’s time for us to redefine the definition of public infrastructure. The infrastructure we need should be focusing on is what’s between the ears, the ‘Cerebral Infrastructure’ … not just what’s between the curbs and gutters.

It makes no difference if you’re in an official decision making capacity for your state or your city or town. Change can come from anywhere. In fact it normally comes from outside the established power structures and ‘ivory towers.’ Regardless it’s still your community. If you sit idly by and let the ‘same old’ become the future … there’s no one to blame but yourself.

Header image by L. Sean Key (Fargo)

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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