A vision mystery

by The City Wire staff (info@thecitywire.com) 3 views 

Fort Smith is a great place to live, today, but as with any living thing, today’s actions affect tomorrow’s outcome.

Individually we set goals to achieve a designed future for ourselves. We know that if we are to achieve our goals, periodically we have to stop and review our past behaviors, adjust our direction, then continue the journey until we reach our goal.

Fort Smith, as a community, needs to periodically examine our collective behavior and adjust when necessary to reach a desired future.

In 8th grade Civics class at Darby Junior High School, Mr. Christy taught me that it was our duty as citizens to participate in government by staying informed about important issues and voting each election. I’ve been negligent of adequate participation in Fort Smith’s governance, but I am correcting that flaw. I read more about local issues and discuss these issues with others. However, when I talk with other people, I find they are unable to answer one question, “What is the current vision for Fort Smith?”

Everybody who I talk to agrees we all want a prosperous and vibrant town. I just have had a hard time locating the details.

There are generally accepted principles, when followed, allow for a strong community. If there was a formal list of principles, citizen participation would be at the top of the list. Life is tremendously busy. A large portion of Fort Smith’s population are trying to make a living and raise a family. Extra time for participation in civic matters is spare.

Business owners and professionals also find it difficult to find time to devote to community participation. The demands of customers, employees, vendors, and the minutia of government regulations that must be navigated demand most of their time. Yet business owners and professionals are one of the most invested groups of people in Fort Smith and have much to lose from a stagnant or declining city. It would benefit business owners to find time to participate, even take the lead, in community activities.

For a community to thrive, participation needs to be representative of all social groups. Fort Smith is a diverse community. People sometimes opine that “diversity is our strength.” Diversity may provide a more in depth understanding of our public policy issues, but strength is always the result of unity. I’m not proposing we all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya My Lord.” I am proposing we accept that we are all part of the same community and Fort Smith will benefit from broad community participation.

If Fort Smith is to be a vibrant community, we need to maintain a high level of civic pride. It is easy for residents to identify and focus on all the things we think are wrong. But if we want people to invest their money in Fort Smith, as residents we need to have a positive attitude about why life is great in Fort Smith. Speaking well of our city will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Investment is attracted to active communities, not dying communities.

I’m not suggesting we ignore obstacles to a prosperous future. I’m suggesting we focus on why Fort Smith is a great place to live. Successful solutions to problems are an attribute of a great place to live.

Probably the most important attribute of a prosperous and vibrant town is visionary leadership. As Fort Smith residents we tend to look toward city government for leadership. It’s not there. Based on the City of Fort Smith’s mission statement, providing visionary leadership for Fort Smith is not their reason for existence. Their purpose is to provide “citizen-focused services for the advancement of a thriving community,” not to be visionary. So if our city government is not designed to provide visionary leadership, where are we to look?

Keep in mind community leaders are everywhere. Community leadership is vested in superintendents of schools, presidents of universities, preachers and priests, judges, hospital and medical clinic administrators, employers, and civic organizations. Most of our community leaders are talented in clarifying their vision for their organization. When they succeed in achieving their vision, Fort Smith benefits.

But there is just one thing that still bothers me. Why is there no leader to develop a clear and comprehensive vision for Fort Smith as a whole? Or am I misinformed?