Barriers to Substantive Change in a Small Town | FREE WHITEWATER
FREE WHITEWATER

Barriers to Substantive Change in a Small Town

Several recent posts here are FREE WHITEWATER are, collectively, a cautionary series on the difficulty of effecting substantive change in Whitewater, Wisconsin. One might want change; realism demands a clear-eyed assessment of its likelihood. Other towns might have better (or even worse) odds; Whitewater is not, by definition, another town.

A listing of challenges, with selections from, and links to, the posts that describe them —

A Reliance on Commuting Professionals Who Choose to Live Elsewhere: 

In effect, Whitewater has a focus group of hundreds of professionals who are telling government and business that they do not wish to live in Whitewater under status quo conditions. These hundreds aren’t buying what’s on offer….Community relations do not happen at a distance of fifteen miles – they happen at a distance of fifteen feet.

See The Commuter Class.

Most Mentoring Is Poorly Conducted: 

Many will be less attached to the community (as they’ve freely chosen to live elsewhere for housing, activities, etc.). Some will see that they’re working in a community whose residents cannot fill all the available professional positions (and so come to see the community as dependent). Some will look on the community merely as a job opportunity and so come to look for other opportunities if any moment in the community goes poorly. Others will look on the community merely as a job opportunity and so bend easily to bad local ideas simply to retain employment.

See Mentoring.

Whitewater’s Leaders Haven’t Encouraged Substantive Change:

These last dozen years have seen a Great Recession, opioid epidemic, economic stagnation, repeated incidents of sexual harassment, a pandemic, and now another recession. Whitewater has been deeply affected during this time (over the last decade, she has more poverty than before), but her governmental approach has been mostly business as usual, with the occasional – and brief – rhetorical nod to national conditions and movements.

If most of the same policymakers haven’t ventured farther than rhetoric (if that far) after so many significant events, they’re not likely to do so now. 

See Built Against Substantive Change.

Major Officials Have Not Been Hired as Agents of Significant Reform:

It’s likely that candidates are asked for no more than slight improvements, and a more polished approach, than their predecessors. There’s almost certainly an emphasis on not embarrassing the hiring body, while simultaneously fulfilling stakeholders’ wishes.

What’s improbable is that a candidate is asked to make substantive, root-and-branch changes. Changes like that would necessarily call into question longtime stakeholders’ own records.

See Candidates’ Expectations.

Whitewater’s Demographics Leave the Notion of a Common Community Perspective Unlikely (for Now):

When one considers the cohort of traditional working age adults in the city, it’s both much smaller (24%), and – itself – heterogenous by race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. In most places, including any town near Whitewater, the 25-64 age bracket would be a larger percentage of the community. For Whitewater, it’s only about a quarter of the town’s total population.

It’s fair to say that even a generation ago the city was significantly less diverse.

Many of Whitewater’s politicians and appointed officials erroneously speak and write about the town as though it were more homogeneous. It’s simply mistaken to speak to that smaller group (itself dissimilar in some fundamental characteristics) as though they, themselves, were the whole town.”

See Quick Observations on Whitewater’s Demographics.

It’s much easier to talk (or issue press releases) about change than to bring it about.

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