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Quint Studer

While we don’t know the exact timeline, in the next few months, we expect the shelter-at-home restrictions to be lifted, and folks will be eager for things to reboot and get back to “normal.”

Don’t expect the reboot to put your community right back to where it was before COVID-19. For starters, it’s not possible.

I’ve read and heard this many times, and I agree: When this is over, the world will have changed in many ways. But also, even if we could, we shouldn’t settle for a return to the “old” normal. We owe it to the community to aim higher.

Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Pensacola followed that guidance when Hurricane Ivan came through in 2004. We had already been working on revitalization, but that crisis turned out to be a springboard for bringing big, meaningful change to our community. Once the initial shock was over, things really took off.

Our entire world is struggling through another storm right now, and we’ll all emerge from this one in different conditions.

This is true for people who will have been in their house for 60 days. Some will come out more fit. Others will gain weight. Some will learn a new skill or write a book or work on their business strategy. Others will not. The same is true on a community level.

We can choose to come out stronger and better. It will take work, but it’s possible.

COVID-19 can be an accelerant for building out your community. The groundwork is being laid right now.

Communities are coming together in ways most of us have never seen before. Companies are repurposing to serve the new needs. Leaders are reaching out to help other leaders. Neighbors are stepping up to help neighbors.

And we’re realizing we really need each other, especially on the local level.

Garbage collectors on the empty streets of New York City and other front-line workers are now being recognized as heroes. In many cities, hospital workers receive nightly applause.

Yes, we are physically separated, but in spite of that — or perhaps because of it — our emotional bonds are stronger than ever.

This mindset is a gift for leaders who seek to re-create the vibrancy that may have been rising before the pandemic — or perhaps to create it for the first time. The power of localism is at an all-time high. We cannot let it go to waste.

Here are a few guidelines for re-engaging your community as we move forward post-pandemic:

Get intentional. Put some real objectives in place around what you want the future to look like. If you don’t have that vision, how can you know where you’re going? Share this vision with the community openly and often.

Be smart with money. You may be getting some stimulus funding. It will be crucial to spend it in a way that invests in the future. Carefully think through what that looks like.

Make small bets. Embrace incrementalism. Fix what’s broken first. Make small, doable changes that generate return on investment. This is how communities build in resilience. Restoring vibrancy won’t happen quickly, but people will be hungry to see things moving in the right direction, so communicate and celebrate your wins.

Put in place a framework for making decisions. If not, the possibilities will overwhelm you. Don’t chase every shiny ball. If the goal is to attract investment, make every decision through that lens. Job one is to create a great place to live that attracts talent. Talent follows place, and investment follows talent. People want affordability, opportunity and vibrancy, so pursue only initiatives that create those conditions.

In my next column, we’ll overview a framework you might consider adopting as you move forward. It centers on four critical areas that improve quality of life and that work together as “gears” to drive a community forward. We will also discuss the role of local leadership in economic development.

As always, thank you for reading, and I welcome your feedback. I am so grateful to be a part of the Strong Towns community.

— Quint Studer of Strong Towns is founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life. Strong Towns is an international movement dedicated to making communities across the United States and Canada financially strong and resilient.