By Dale Martin
Fernandina Beach City Manager
June 16, 2022
At the annual Florida City/County Managers Association conference earlier this month, Mr. Doug Griffiths was a keynote speaker. Like you, I had never heard of Mr. Griffiths before the conference, but the title of his session 13 Ways to Kill Your Community piqued my interest. His presentation was a condensed summation of his book of the same title (2nd edition; 2016).
Mr. Griffiths is from Alberta, Canada. As he spins his stories, though, the lessons are applicable to communities throughout the world. As I read each chapter, I can often recall (by name) the characters of my former communities that are represented in his book in other communities. Every community strongly desires to distinguish itself as exceptionally unique, but, at its foundation- its residents- every community is extraordinarily common. The presentation was intriguing and provoking enough that I purchased eight copies of the book to share with the City Commissioners and staff.
Mr. Griffiths thirteen ways to kill your community include the following, to which each has a chapter dedicated:
- Forget the Water
- Don’t Attract Business
- Don’t Engage Youth
- Deceive Yourself
- Shop Elsewhere
- Don’t Paint
- Don’t Cooperate
- Live in the Past
- Shut Out Your Seniors
- Reject Everything New
- Ignore Outsiders
- Grow Complacent
- Don’t Take Responsibility
Not included in that series of chapters are the book’s Forward and Prologue, which, admittedly, most of the time I gloss over- I want to get to the “meat” of the book. As a result of Mr. Griffiths’ presentation, however, I wanted to read every word. It was fascinating to be so attentive to those introductions.
In the Prologue, much as with the book itself, Mr. Griffiths shared his perspective of imaging failure as an alternative to success. Success is a lofty, imaginative objective, but failure can be exceptionally cruel. He asked students what would you consider to be a failure in life? The common responses were dropouts, drug addiction, and unwanted pregnancies. He challenged the students to then describe what would be the first step on the path to those failures, and the students were embarrassed to admit that they commonly took those steps- failing to study, experimenting with drugs, or engaging in unprotected sex. His lesson was to bypass the obviously recognizable steps that could eventually lead to failure. By avoiding failure, the students had a better chance at success- and so do communities.
The first chapter, as mentioned above, deals with water- both the quality and the quantity. His comment is that without plentiful, high-quality water, your community will eventually fail. Water quality, he says, is an easy visual indicator of the state of a community. In this chapter, though, he describes a situation that easily extends beyond water to nearly every other community discussion.
While water accessibility is the specific issue, he states that when a community faces an issue, it often devolves into a three-way conversation. Two factions often advocate for different solutions to a problem that is obvious and warrants a different course of action. Despite the need to do something different, a third faction often arises: the do-nothing faction. He then concedes that a fourth informal faction actually exists- the “general, and generally disinterested, public-at-large.” Quoting further, “For the most part they aren’t engaged in the details of the discussion and are simply busy with running their businesses or jobs, coaching soccer or hockey, volunteering at the school or community organizations, and putting away the chairs at church. They typically don’t get very engaged, though they are the most impacted.”
He argues that the fourth group does, in part, listen, but the third faction, typically the loudest and angriest, hold the most sway. Griffiths says, “We often give more credence to the critics than they deserve. It is easy to sound smart when all you have to do is critique other people’s actions. Arguments made by the first two factions that recognize change is necessary simply get run down by the third faction trying to make the first two look foolish, thereby accomplishing their “do-nothing” objective. “The critics fight, and the generally disinterested public-at-large doesn’t want to get into a fight with them or be the next target of those critics, so they give them the win.”
And that is only the first chapter of how to kill your community.