Let’s assume that one believes, as Whitewater’s political class has professed for the last generation, that attracting newcomer families to the city is a worthy goal. (I share this goal; for those who don’t, the conversation’s over, so to speak. They need say no more, and may watch out their windows as the city stagnates, then slowly declines.)
Yet, if one believes that attracting newcomers, including families, is a positive end, how are we to do so? There are at least three possibilities: (1) with take-it-or-leave-it-offers, (2) with cooperative engagement, or (3) when offering will no longer matter, and newcomers will take what they want.
Undoubtedly, anyone involved professionally in attracting newcomers sees that a cooperative spirit is the best option; I’m writing in a time when a few who are influential – but outside that development circle – still don’t grasp as much.
It should be obvious that a take-it-or-leave-it-attitude, a view that the city is already flawless and unquestionably desirable – will attract few newcomers, and none who are realistic. All towns need improvement of one kind or another. Those who insist that there’s a certain way to talk around here will only be met with desirable prospects’ silence and rejection.
If people are to come here, and buy houses here, they’ll bring more than their money: they’ll come here with their views and cultural preferences. If they can’t bring the latter they’ll not spend the former.
I’ve had conversations with conservative newcomers, for example, from thriving conservative communities, who are surprised that longer-term residents are uninterested in ideas that have been successful elsewhere. ‘That’s the way we do things around here’ is a declaration that discourages the talented from visiting, staying, or participating in civic life.
When residents respond that way, they undermine the efforts of development advocates.
The second possibility is to receive newcomers cooperatively: what would they like, what do they think, and how can we meet their likes and incorporate their ideas? This is the best response, in which we listen and evolve.
There’s a third possibility, however: if newcomers won’t take only what’s offered (they won’t), and if there aren’t effective efforts to meet new residents halfway, then they’ll take what they want on their own terms when our real estate market collapses for lack of prior demand.
Gentrification may yet come to Whitewater, but it will not come on terms pleasant to the recalcitrant.
That time is a while yet ahead, and still might be avoided. These years since the Great Recession have seen that possibility draw closer. (Do longterm residents not see the signs of distress? If they can’t see as much, there’s no chance they can manage an eye chart.) If we’re not accepting of newcomers now – politically and culturally – we will reach a time when our acceptance will matter almost not at all.