Just Try to Stop This Downtown TrainNovember 7, 2006
“All of my dreams just fall like rain
All upon a downtown train”
Jon Shallert called last week to tell me about the movement to save downtown Ellensburg, Washington. Like a lot of downtowns in rural America, its very existence is threatened by a host of economic factors. Ellensburg is about a two-hour drive from Seattle. That same day New York Senator Charles E. Schumer and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wrote a Wall Street Journal article about saving downtown New York. It’s somewhere out east. Which effort do you suppose will get more attention?
It seems that New York’s primacy in financial matters is being threatened by such upstarts as London and Hong Kong. So, what is New York going to do about the threat to their downtown? Well, as the article, entitled “To Save New York, Learn from London,” says, “That is why New York has hired a consulting firm, which will issue a report in November identifying the specific variables that are negatively impacting our financial-services industry and recommending an action plan to correct them.” Be still my heart.
What is Ellensburg going to do about the threat to their downtown? No consulting firms, no reports – they just dug right in. Last week, they launched a national online fundraising effort on their web site – www.ellensburgdowntown.org. But since they couldn’t get Chuck Schumer and Michael Bloomberg to help, they decided they’d have to make do with a donated web site and a volunteer college student (Kvalley Computers – www.kvalley.com/ – and Nicole Evans).
The fundraising effort went live November 1st and in a just a matter of days (and while New York waits for its report) Ellensburg has already received an outpouring of support and money from places as far away as Washington D.C. and Tupelo, Mississippi.
The entire effort has also already energized Ellensburg itself. The Executive Director of the Downtown Ellensburg Association, Timothy Bishop, told us, “Businesses that a month ago weren’t convinced we would be around a year from now, suddenly started getting excited about downtown’s future and calling to see how they could help.”
Local coffee shop D&M Coffee agreed to put Ellensburg website stickers on every coffee sold in each of their 5 locations. Central Washington University’s Alpha Kappa Psi (“The Professional Business Fraternity”) decided to make the movement their community service project. Bishop told us “you can almost feel the change in the air.”
What the heck is going on here? Perhaps Glenn Reynolds, the author of An Army of Davids, can shed some light on why the effort to save downtown Ellensburg, even against all odds, is likely to work. The Wall Street Journal summarized his book this way: “The balance of advantage — in nearly every aspect of society — is shifting from big organizations to small ones.” Or, to put it another way, look out, Walmart.
Small organizations are not only propelled by technology, but also by the people who are dreaming up new and better ways to use those technologies. It’s not the technology, stupid. It’s what people do with technology that counts.
In this case, it started with a few earnest volunteers and the instant reach and connection of the Internet. Then it quickly moved to partnerships with others who care about the issue of preserving our rural and small town heritage. Now it’s going to pick up more partnerships. If you’re reading this, you may even be one of those potential partners.
Stephen M. R. Covey has written about “The Speed of Trust.” Just think of the speed of trust when someone in Tupelo, Mississippi trusts someone in a faraway Washington town. It’s staggering, really. It’s the speed of national trust and preservation.
Mssrs. Schumer and Bloomberg closed their article about New York with this sentence (we’ve changed only a word or two):
“Our abilities… will determine the future of Ellensburg — and, in many ways, the nation. If we do not rise to the challenge, the speculation that downtown Ellensburg is losing its pre-eminence in its own local marketplace will become more than just chatter.”
Don’t let that happen – to Ellensburg or New York.