My husband is a pilot. He flies all over the country. Sometimes I know he's gone, I'm just not sure where! He often ends up in smaller towns and remote areas, and brings back stories of delightful downtowns and unique restaurants.
About a month ago, he visited Eagle, Colorado. Came back raving about their downtown and the general culture of the town. "Great, honey. Glad you had fun." Didn't think much more about it. Then he brought it up again last week, about how small it was yet they had "figured out how to do downtown right". Well, being as interested in downtown revitalization as I am, I had to check this Eagle place out.
So, I did a little reading. And I have to say, I'm impressed.
What's the big deal about Eagle?
First of all, it's tiny. I'm talking a little more than half the size of Atchison. And that's after some impressive growth that's occurred in recent years. The population was only 1,500 in 1990, then doubled to 3,000 by the next census, and more than doubled again by 2010 to 6,500! Ok, they did something...now to figure out what, (using only Google, mind you).
Hubby had told me it was pretty close to Vail and sure enough, the map shows it's about 30 minutes away from the famous ski destination. Well, there goes my hopes for a similar result with Atchison. Snow Creek is awesome...but it's no Vail.
Ah. Here's a find. According to an article by PBS Newshour, in 2011 residents in Eagle were resigned to the fact that the former boom town had a failing economy. Apparently the town was energized by large amounts of new construction during the housing bubble, and when it popped, Eagle started to die. So what happened next?
The turning point
The town of Eagle was struggling to survive. Then...people happened. Collaboration happened. And it is working.
A renewed community plan was developed and put into place in July of 2010. This wasn't just the result of official city planners and hired consultants. Much of the community was involved in the planning process, giving feedback in a organized manner, hopeful about the future of their small town. But it didn't stop there.
The community continued to be involved in decision making. According to Wikipedia, "The Eagle community has an involved community, especially when big issues come up for review." The Community Activism section on their wiki page goes on to list the major accomplishments that the community has been involved in through voting and being involved.
Yes, I know. Wikipedia is not considered a credible source. But in this instance, it is. Wikipedia is made up of many different authors that are motivated to add informative sections organized under a shared topic. The more developed a page is, the more motivated authors the page had.
Considering the town is still very small, the fact that someone was motivated enough that they wrote such statements about their town is just, well inspiring. Even if it was a hired PR firm who wrote it, the town can still be proud to say that they have a high amount of involved citizens.
How Atchison compares
If you live in Atchison, you probably know where I'm going with this. No, we don't have gorgeous mountain views, or world-class resorts nearby. If you look into the stats about the Eagle, you will find that their population's health, wealth, and education levels don't match ours. But, what we do have is an ever-growing group of active citizens who care about their community, those around them, and aren't giving up. We are known, outside of Atchison, as a town that gives and a town that cares. Inside Atchison, there is steady chatter of positivity, inspiration, and collaboration on local social media, official city communications, radio shows, and even local newspapers (who usually have to sell on sensationalism).
Atchison may not double in population in the next ten years, but we are well on our way towards growth —and definitely not resignation. The 15-year city plan focuses on building a community that is ideal place for young professionals and families to live and thrive. It's not just a hopeful goal. I wrote about the revival occurring in Atchison a few months ago, and it still continues. Big things like the new YMCA, new downtown hotel, and new airport and small things like dog parks, walking trails, and regular community events are all working towards making this happen. Atchison is seeing positive change just like Eagle. All we need now is a little snow.