Author Simon Sinek writes, “A community is a group of people who agree to grow together.”
His brief description holds a lot of impact, with the implication of unity and the expectation of growth, predicated on arriving at a common point. I believe these words hold a special meaning for a small town.
Living things are designed for growth and progress, if vitality is to be maintained. There is a natural pace and manner in which growth occurs. While some seasons are more vigorous than others, the natural rhythms of life are an important indicator to prompt our patterns. Of course, it is possible for something to grow too big or too fast, outpacing its ability to sustain health in all areas. As such, growth for growth’s sake is not an ideal. Rather, paying careful attention to pace and scale is the key to maintaining health and not fostering uncontrolled expansion. In this way, the issue of growth becomes a stewardship issue, determining if that common point of arrival can be maintained.
Metroplan is a regional association of local governments within the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), with a focus on transportation and other issues of regional impact. Metroplan releases two studies each year, titled Metrotrends with a focus on demographics and economics. This past spring, the Demographic Review and Outlook publication was released, which indicates that Lonoke grew by an estimated 1.2 % between 2010 and 2017. Given the trend among similarly-sized rural communities towards population loss, which we have discussed in previous editions of this column, I consider it a blessing that Lonoke has sustained a growth pattern, such as it is.
There are many statistics and charts in the study worth reviewing and evaluating, in light of the region as a whole. Unavoidably, our focus tends to be on the most obvious indicator - the numbers alone. However, in the case of the growth of a town, I would suggest that numbers are only one metric of growth, but numbers do not necessarily correlate with health.
We recognize that an environment is being created around us right now. It will be formed either by passivity, or intentionality. We must honestly ask ourselves, “What sort of environment are we creating, and what will be the ultimate outcome of this effort?” With each opportunity we consider, we may either create long-term liabilities to be managed, or enduring investments to be inherited and harvested by our next generation. Lonoke is a small enough town that development has an impact on every aspect of our community. Our scale generates interdependent proximities and our size can certainly be a blessing. If we truly believe that every neighborhood in Lonoke matters, then our decision-making process must value opportunity and prosperity for Lonoke’s future generations that follow by ensuring that temporary, immediate gains are not given undue preference.
Lonoke is in a unique position, because we have determined - together as a unified community - the values and vision which we are striving to implement. In the words of Simon Sinek, we know our “WHY.” The set of guiding principles and goals that the citizens of our town have defined are a standard against which we may evaluate the fittingness of each forthcoming opportunity that emerges. We need not move forward in a capricious manner, or make fear-motivated decisions from a conflated sense of urgency or desperation for the first opportunity that comes along. Instead, we must have the integrity and the restraint to reject those things which undermine our strength of character in order that we may embrace those unique opportunities to celebrate our diverse connections.
As Lonoke grows, we must grow towards each other, not apart. May we never become a community that depends upon isolation as a driver of growth. When we encourage investment in infill development, making use of our long-established existing resources, we multiply the impact of the effort, and weave connections, rather than construct barriers. When we plan accessible sidewalks and enhanced recreation pathways, we are making “small bets” - incremental investments with the potential for great payoff in Lonoke’s quality of life.
Lonoke will grow, but as we do, we will still look like us - albeit an improved version of ourselves - and we will dismiss the temptation to pursue the generic makeover. Our ability to grow is not defined by our capacity to mimic the character and patterns of the larger communities in the MSA. By contrast, our growth can be defined by a greater metric - one not based on numbers alone, but based on vision and strategic action. As Lonoke chooses to implement a season of goal achievement, by the 150th anniversary of our founding in 2022, we will be positioned to retain and attract a diverse population of neighbors. In that sense, Lonoke’s ability to grow is only limited by our creativity!
How will Lonoke grow? We will grow toward health and strength. We will grow in a way that simultaneously honors the investments of the past generation and the potential of our next generation. We will celebrate those that have gone before us, and empower those that are coming behind us, equipping them for leadership and creativity. With an attention to pace and scale, we will not miss the best opportunities that lie ahead.
Ryan Biles has lived in Lonoke with his wife Natalie since 2004. Together they are raising three sons and comprise 5 of the total number listed on the Lonoke population sign. Check out additional links and content in the digital version of this column at www.LookAtLonoke.com.