Why Rural Resurrection?

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So what spurs a community planner to start a blog that is aimed at helping the rural Midwest? Why would I start Rural Resurrection? Was it Boredom? A desire to throw money at server fees each year? An overactive, rambling mind without an outlet?

Early Influences

Rural Resurrection LogoTo get a grasp of “Why?” it is important to understand my beginnings. Born in northwest Iowa, my first few years were spent in the towns of Le Mars and Postville in the northwest and northeast corners of the state. In 1980 my family moved to Red Oak, Iowa. This small southwestern Iowa town is where I would spend most of my childhood.

It was a great childhood. Most of my youth was spent in Red Oak. At the time, Red Oak was a town of 6,500 residents with a relatively strong agriculture and manufacturing economic base. It was a great childhood. My parents were comfortable with allowing me to bike or walk to my friends’ houses, to the ballfields, to the pool and elsewhere in town.

My father used to say that he wasn’t worried about my safety or what trouble I would get into as most people in town knew who I was, or at least who I belonged to. (He also made sure I knew that too, which helped keep me in line!).

Some  say it was a different time back then. But that was small town life and it still is in many rural areas.

For a couple years of my youth I lived in Omaha, Nebraska. Though Omaha doesn’t have many of the problems several larger cities do, I was certainly a fish out of water. I was just a number in the massive school system. There was a four-lane highway roughly 100 yards from my bedroom window. My area of freedom was contained by heavily trafficked roads. Even then my mother was worried about where I would be.

This brief stint in a metropolitan community gave me more respect for rural life. An appreciation that wouldn’t leave me.

Witnessing Need in Rural Iowa

After my graduation from Iowa State University, I started work for Southern Iowa Council of Governments (SICOG) in Creston, Iowa. Councils of Government (COGs) in Iowa are not-for-profit entities that have been formed to assist communities throughout their designated region. There are similar organizations in other states that fall under different names (RDAs, RDCs, etc.) that have regions that they cover and provide similar services.

Many of the towns that I worked for were among the poorest in the state. Yet, they all had great history, great character, and amazing people with a passion for their small community. There was so much desire to make their town better. But there was also little money or training to do so.

These towns unfortunately were also the ones with the bleakest of futures. This job, unfortunately, was also where I briefly acquired the nickname “Destroyer of Towns”. The little town of Athelstan, Iowa was having problems getting interest from enough of the townspeople to fill the minimum City Council spots required. Being unable to field a City Council, they couldn’t make the regular necessary decisions to run the City and made the disheartening decision to disincorporate the City.

I was tasked with compiling a dis-incorporation plan for the town in accordance with state statutes. Although it was a good plan to add to my career resume, the experience overall stuck in my mind. Will more and more of these plans have to be drafted in the future as the continued brain drain takes its toll?

Furthering My Career, Furthering My Desire to Help

My next adventure took me to a consulting firm in Omaha, Nebraska where I developed a wide range of plans from Comprehensive Plans to Housing Studies and Capital Improvement Programs (CIPs) for smaller communities in Nebraska and Iowa. I was also given the chance to do some on-call current planning work for a couple of small Nebraska communities on the outer edge of the Omaha Metro Area.

The range of activities I undertook, along with the variety of small towns I assisted, provided a great opportunity. Each community had a story unique to their own. With every planning project I would study the community’s past to gain a better understanding of where it began, what made the community how it is today, and where the community is going in the future.  There were some truly interesting paths that each community took.

I moved on in my work life to handle the planning activities of a suburban city. Though I wasn’t directly connected to rural towns through my job anymore, it did give me the chance to lead a state planning and zoning association. As president of the association, I’ve regularly talked to representatives of small towns that were looking for help. Often I’ve been asked for help with more than just planning and zoning. Questions from public administration, to economic development, to public engagement and more would regularly come my way.

The Realization of the Need for Rural Resurrection

I realized over the years that there’s no real central resource for these towns. Sure, there’s state organization with a host of information on certain subjects. But being a member to just one organization alone can be cost-prohibitive to smaller towns with tight budgets. Often one organization doesn’t cover all the aspects and it gets tougher to get all the help needed without being members to a number of organizations. Even if a town was a member of each organization, getting to conferences and other learning activities just isn’t viable. Often there’s one person in City Hall, if there even is a dedicated City Hall, with no one to cover while this person is out.

I’ve held a spot in my heart for small towns and their residents for many years. They are often the most genuine and down to earth individuals you can find. But they have challenges in from of them. Challenges that are hard to overcome. Even with information to help.

But I want to help small towns as much as I can. By writing from my knowledge, and the knowledge of others, on a variety of issues, maybe it can help.

That is why Rural Resurrection was created.