Community development and redevelopment–where do you even begin? Generally, there are two ways of approach: looking at the community’s needs and looking at what the community already has–its strengths. Each of these approaches paints a very different picture of a community and occasionally they are used separately, but often they are employed together for double the impact. It sometimes seems to be easier to list the things perceived as wrong or the failures in a community, so let’s shift focus and look at the strengths of the Oil Region through the lens of Asset Based Community Development.
Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is a distinct community development strategy focusing on a community’s assets rather than deficits. Instead of focusing on only the needs of a community, this approach inventories the strengths and resources a community has, from people, groups, and institutions to places like parks and buildings. ABCD is often something that members of the community can facilitate themselves. Let’s consider each category with the Oil Region in mind.
First, people, like you! Each of us has skills, gifts, and passions. Throughout the Oil Region, you’ll find people who are passionate about preserving history. You’ll find educators both in and out of the classroom. There are skilled laborers in dozens of fields. There are artists, musicians, writers, social workers, and so many others.
Next, organizations. Think about what clubs and organizations are in your town. In my little town of Emlenton, there is a business association, town council, public art studio, civic club, summer festival committee, many churches, the Boys and Girls Club, 4h, and a homeschool group. Your town probably has many similar groups, and others as well.
Institutions. This includes government agencies, schools, and businesses. We have a variety of service-based businesses, and restaurants serving up everything from typical pub food to Italian or Chinese fare. There are manufacturers in areas like home construction, machining, and even food production. Newspapers and publishers are institutions and so are the government agencies that run assets like our State Parks and Forest Lands which themselves fall into the next category: places.
We have so much to offer in our places. Numerous historical sites dot the region. Our natural resources include a beautiful scenic river, lakes, forests, trails, and other locations for recreation. In addition to our natural resources, the shift in the industry in the area has offered us some assets in the avenue of man-made structures. This is often listed in the “cons” column, but many of these now-empty buildings provide excellent adaptive reuse opportunities. And these man-made assets are not limited to above the ground. Recently, I was given the opportunity to tour Brady’s Bend Underground Storage with President, Andy Ellis, who shared many of his dreams for what the inactive mine could house in addition to the storage space.
When we put ABCD to work here in the Oil Region, what can we accomplish? Looking at this list of assets (which is by no means exhaustive), what ideas do you have? Stop in at Divani Chocolatier in Foxburg on Fridays from 1-3 to chat with me and other community members about what you envision for the region.
Rachel Brosnahan is the Community Engagement Coordinator for River Roots Redevelopment. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org