Our shared destiny: Understanding life in small towns

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Lindsay at dawn. Photo: Michael LaRiviere.

People who reside in small towns, much more than in large cities, have a shared destiny.

We are not lost in the shuffle of faceless people and endless possibilities. We are each others’ possibilities; we are each other’s best chance.

The ache of a factory or business closing is felt not only by the people who work there, their lives scarred by uncertain days ahead, but by everyone in the town. That includes our small businesses who may then not see as much support. It could include your neighbour or a family member whose life has irrevocably changed.

Publisher Roderick Benns.Similarly, we can celebrate together when there’s a new employer or a business expansion. Or we can enjoy the quiet happiness of a new or refurbished park or the growth of a community garden.

Public institutions are magnified in importance in small towns. Luckily, our excellent system of public education in Ontario means great things for smaller centres like ours. For no matter where we live here we can be assured of good schools. The OECD – which has measured our education system in Canada and found it to be in the world’s top 10 – would say our dominant theme is equity, with very little variation between schools.

Our libraries are integral civic spaces that connect us, offering not only books but access to the internet, programs for families, and a chance for levelling life’s playing field. In a small town, especially, they are lifelines to the broader world.

Part of our shared path is to inevitably grow together. As Contributing Editor Trevor Hutchinson writes in our in-depth feature story we are projected to grow quite a bit larger in Kawartha Lakes within the next 20 years. Our small community of communities — to borrow former Prime Minister Joe Clark’s phrase — will find itself with a larger tax base and the means to do more.

We will need more employers as well as great public institutions as we grow. Seniors add much to our communities but even they will tell you we need younger, working age families, too. Attracting entrepreneurs looking for the kind of balanced lifestyle we can offer here is part of that equation.

As we grow and become something shaped by both new and old, what will we want our shared destiny to be? Will we be happy to become Toronto’s playground or will we find a way to protect our core elements – our town’s soul – that makes us what we are?

Protecting who we are cannot mean the status quo, though. Towns (or businesses, or people) that resist all kinds of change are destined to fail. So we must let change in and manage it wisely. With a nod to Mahatma Gandhi, we must all speak up – and be a part of – the change we wish to see.

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