Paynesville Press - March 13, 2002

Community Perspective

Community must choose vitality

By Dale Lorenz

Community vitality can be compared with individual vitality, and as such can ebb and flow and be difficult to maintain. Just as each of us needs to maintain our vitality so we can enjoy and get the most out of life, it is important for a community to have vitality.

A community with high vitality provides a much more enjoyable, and productive, life for its citizens.

Our dictionary has four definitions for the word "vitality," and I think they all apply to what I want to say: (1) The characteristic that distinguishes the living from the nonliving; (2) The capacity to live, grow, or develop; (3) Physical or intellectual vigor, energy; (4) The power to survive.

A vital community, then, is one that is full of life and has the energy, power, and vigor to survive and grow.

We can all agree that vitality is a positive value, but it is challenging to maintain in a rural community of our size. I would argue that even though it may be difficult it is essential and doable. It simply means that we have to work harder than communities that have natural advantages both in size and other factors.

On a vitality scale of one to ten, where would you put our community? I would put it about in the middle. This means I see some positives, but also some real opportunities for improvement.

We are at that awkward place and time where the decisions we make in the near future will, to a great extent, determine our future as a healthy and productive community.

If we are going to increase our position on the vitality scale, we must work from our many strengths. We have good people. We are at the intersection of three major highways and fairly close to large population centers. We are blessed with two natural physical amenities called Lake Koronis and Rice Lake. I could mention more, but the space for this column is limited.

The Paynesville Area Health Care System is a positive example of vitality in our community. It is an organization that appears to be full of life and has the energy and vigor to survive and grow. It has reached out to other communities, has continually grown its physical and human resources, and looks constantly for future growth potential. It is indeed a vital part of the community and we need more businesses and organizations like this.

There are other positive examples, but I would like to devote the remainder of this column to some thoughts on possible initiatives that could add to community vitality. There are more, but I would suggest four:

(1) There should be a major community effort to eliminate pollution in our two lakes. Imagine being in the resort or conference business and having guests for a week when the algae is in full bloom. There are still people in our area who remember when the water in these two lakes was pristine all summer; there is no reason they should not be again. We must learn to live within the lakes' ecological carrying capacity.

(2) A community with vitality looks it! We need to spruce up downtown and spots surrounding the area. Think of turning our community over to a Hollywood stage crew with the goal of depicting an ideal smalltown community setting. They more than likely would depict a place with architectural integrity and would use a compatible color palette throughout. We could start simply by a general sprucing up: some consistency in awnings and the use of compatible colors.

This initiative must include finding the use for, or the elimination, of abandoned buildings. Few things signal the absence of vitality more than abandoned buildings with weeds growing around them.

The downtown could include a park with shopping and eating places around it, additional parking, etc. Think of Stillwater and Northfield as examples.

(3) Encourage a good restaurant operator to build a special place on Lake Koronis with good food, good wine, docking facilities, and other amenities. It should be for locals and a place that people in a 50-mile radius would enjoy and recommend.

(4) Complete the proposed airport and the trail to and around Koronis. These projects have been made more difficult because we all tend to be guilty of letting the naysayers dominate meeting agendas. Completion of these two projects will add vitality and send a signal about the kind of community we are and intend to be.

There are many things that contribute to making a strong community, and vitality is essential. A community without vitality disintegrates, and we can see this in some of the smaller towns around us.

A community with vitality has a positive attitude and depicts a can-do confidence that attracts and retains people with the same characteristics. Our community still has that choice.

Dale Lorenz has lived on Lake Koronis for nine years and is a member of the Koronis Lake Association's board of directors.

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