Do Smaller Communities Have an Advantage?

The reality is that while there is much about growing older that leaves a lot to be desired, there are definitely some perks.

One of those perks is that as we mature, most of us do get to know ourselves better and what it is we’re passionate about.  At long last, some of those disjointed, dancing dots do get connected.

For me that translates into knowing I find joy in learning more about community leadership and how we can better nurture the development of our communities as strong, healthy, and vibrant places to live, work and play.

Recently my work seems to have focused on the similarities as well as the differences between urban and rural communities. And, while it seems that most communities, regardless of their size, are struggling with the same challenges, it just may be that smaller communities have the advantage. It could be that bigger isn’t always better and that we should be paying more attention to the lessons and learnings from the grassroots. 

After all, while creating change in a city the size of Toronto or Calgary is a tad bit daunting, making it happen in smaller communities might actually be doable.

Perhaps smaller communities should be viewed as the classrooms for learning more about the changes that need to be put into place in larger communities to help us all respond to a global, highly competitive, fast changing, knowledge-based economy.

So why do smaller communities have the advantage? 

From what I’ve seen, smaller communities better understand the importance of community.  In large communities it’s not unusual if you don’t know your neighbours. In smaller communities, the odds are greater that you do. Knowing one another is essential for caring connected communities.

Smaller communities don’t take their young people for granted. In many cases, they’ve been unable to keep their kids in town. Nothing like a town without young people to remind you how essential they are. 

Residents in smaller communities seem to do a better job of taking care of one another. Maybe it’s the result of having fewer social service departments and agencies headquartered in their midst or perhaps because there simply aren’t a lot of services to rely on. Regardless, the end result is that they’re more apt to turn to one another. And although they don’t always think of it as volunteerism, the spirit of volunteerism is generally alive and well in small communities.

By virtue of their size, smaller communities have an advantage in terms of being nimble and responsive. After all, it’s much easier to stop and turn on a dime if you’re driving a smaller vehicle rather than a lumbering freight train.

Smaller communities also tend to be less entrenched within silos and less partial to turf protection. Perhaps because of the smaller population, there aren’t as many silos or subsectors to connect and, it’s easier to find them.

It seems to be much easier for small communities to know their communities and their issues. As a result, community leaders are generally knowledgeable about their communities and better able to prioritize their energies and resources. It makes it easier to practice systems-thinking and to maximize resources by converging disciplines and sectors.

I’ve also found that smaller and rural communities have a better grasp on the importance of community development. They seem to understand that leadership is about helping people to help themselves…to teach people to fish rather than just giving them fish to eat. Citizens in smaller communities don’t generally appear to be looking for a knight in shining armour or a magic solution. They seem to know intuitively that the wisdom is within their collective midst and not likely to come from an outsider.

And, perhaps because smaller communities have to change with the times to survive, more have worked to establish a vision for their future. They’re pretty smart about where it is they want to go because in large part they’ve learned that if you just take the time to ask people,  they will tell you what is good about their community, what needs some work, and most importantly, how it can be fixed.

Maybe it’s not that complicated after all. 


Posted on 11-09-07

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