Skip Navigation LinksHome


Reset Icon

Reset Icon

Feb 03

City/County Leaders are Neighbors First

By Rich Luker

It was my privilege to spend time yesterday with the Florida City/County Managers Association.  I learned a lot. These leaders are paid professionals, not elected officials.  They are like doctors or teachers.  They went to school and learned how to manage the complexities of modern city life.


I also realized they are in a very tough position.  They are ADMINISTRATORS. They carry out the needs and wishes of others the best they can with incredibly reduced resources. They are very much the messengers of the bad American economy.  They are not the message. They didn’t cause the problems.  But they may see the impacts more immediately and clearly than most.  They didn’t cause the problems, but they are in the completely unenviable position of having to decide who gets less.


I went to the meeting thinking they were in a great position to be an agent for change in community – to be a sign to others to be more neighborly.  I still think that.  But as I drove home from the meeting I realized that is asking too much of them. This isn’t a time to ask more of those who are paid to keep your towns and counties going.  It’s more like a time to ask what we can do to help make their burdens lighter.  They are, after all, actually OUR burdens.


They – these leaders – are ours too.  This is not a “we” and “they” situation.  They are one of us.  They are our neighbors first. I forgot that.  And I wish I would have remembered that before the drive home.  I would have said different things to them.  I would have started by saying “Thanks.” I am certain they are for the most part both civil and servants.  While I heard a lot of understandable grousing about the economy, politics and Florida leadership – A LOT - the undercurrent in all they were really talking about was what they might do to preserve the quality of local life that remains and do more to improve that quality into the future.


I was the first to speak to the group at this meeting.  After me, even as I write this, they would turn to the heavy topics dominated by the economy.  For my part, I encouraged them to stop thinking of all of us as “citizens” or “consumers” or “residents” and to see us as “neighbors” instead.  I sent the wrong message to the wrong group. I want to ask all of us who are served to remember that every single one of those who provide us government service are our neighbors too.

Make a Comment     Top ↑
Jan 20

Citizens, Consumers or Neighbors? – One way for local government to see people

By Rich Luker

January 20, 2011


We started as neighbors.  As more of us arrived, we realized a need to organize how we lived together to provide for our needs and safety, but we started as neighbors.  We knew each other, had work lives apart from our civic responsibilities and in a general sense looked out for each other because we were in the same place at the same time, all the time. 


As America grew larger we lost our ability to know everyone in our community and needed to develop more dedicated resources to run cities.  City government and civil service employment was born.  Americans still had a sense of involvement in city and we defined that involvement as our “civic duty.” We had a shared sense of responsibility with and for each other. We were now citizens and less neighbors running community. But over time, that awareness of responsibility and ownership of the town by the citizens became more distant as services were provided professional by people who were paid to do things we all once chipped in to do.  Time passed.  Civics classes passed too – do they still teach them? 


City became a we/they proposition – those who live in the city, and those who work for and serve the city.  The model migrated so strongly in that direction that over the last decade or so municipal governments have talked about “customer service.”  City is now a utility along with cable, phones and electric.  I am not a member or heart-part of the cable, phone or electric company.  Now, it appears, I am not a heart-part of city anymore either.


Neighbors, to citizens, to customers.  And now it seems municipalities are talking more about reviving citizenship and civic responsibility.  I get that.  But I want to suggest it is far better to go the full two steps backward to being neighbors.  You, as city leadership, want citizens to take responsibility, to not see themselves as entitled to city services. I agree. But stopping at “citizen” tells me I need to work without reminding me – at heart – that I BELONG!  “Neighbor” is the goal.  We are ALL neighbors.  We LIVE together. And our lives depend on each other.  Restore neighbors and responsible citizenship will naturally follow.


Here, for me, is the next step.  Let’s talk about city differently.  What happens if we see ourselves, all of us, as neighbors?  (Where is Mr. Rogers when you really need him!) What if every civic discussion began with “Hi, my name is Rich.  I live on 16th Ave.  How about you?”  Change the context from service to place.  We live TOGETHER and in the same place.  And this place, this city, will not develop a virtual branch online nor will it have a satellite neighborhood in another state.  This is it.  This is THE place.  The one place we can know for sure that if we develop programs to gather with our neighbors the place will always be there.


Make a Comment     Top ↑
May 30

ITGA Meeting in Ames, IA this week

By Rich Luker

May 30, 2010

If you are lucky enough to live in a college town, you are pretty lucky. Colleges are the world’s absolute best amusement parks. They have nearly every imaginable wonderful everyday experience available all in one location.  The only thing really missing is the welcome mat.

The International Town & Gown Association (ITGA) was formed to create the best two-way mat possible for college towns – welcoming the town to the campus and the campus to the town.

When you think of it, colleges often exist off in a corner, up on the hill, and somewhat secluded… for two historically good reasons.  First, very young adults are off on their own for the first time in their lives and parents want to be sure they are safe. So universities built many decades ago placed a priority on being sure schools were somewhat like fortresses that kept students safe. Second, we didn’t want students to be distracted from their studies by all the wonderful things available in the local town.

Keep in mind, however, that the college campus model was created more than a century ago. A clearly different time with different social needs for students. The vast majority of colleges were built on the old time model – walls out, windows in.

Take a look at your campus.  Do most of the buildings at the edge of campus have bare walls facing the town while all the interior walls, facing the campus green, have windows?  That’s great for the student experience but sends a very strong signal to the town “Vistors not welcome.”

In fact, look at the signs.  Do you have to be a member of the campus community to know what the Schmenkie Building is for?  Yes.  The signs are for insiders. They rarely consider – let alone welcome and guide – the town as a whole.

The ITGA is changing that.  And I believe this is an organization with the potential to take a leading role in reviving American community. Check them out at:

Make a Comment     Top ↑
Jan 06

College towns & ITGA

By Rich Luker

Over time, this blog may seem to bounce around a lot, but it’s always going to be about community and, in time, maybe it will become the hub of the revival of American community.

That said, I am sitting in a very interesting seat.

I am getting to watch community blossom in high school, college, minor league sports, parks, senior citizen centers, Chambers of Commerce, small newspapers and more. The more I do, the more folks come to me and to to see what we are all about.

Today I want to introduce you to the International Town & Gown Association (ITGA) –  This is an amazing, and relatively new cooperation in college towns between the leadership of schools and the towns where they reside. Kim Griffo, the very new Executive Director, is on a mission to make the most of community through the potential of relationships between towns and municipalities.

Today, just an introduction, but keep an eye on ITGA. Reviving community is neither a race nor a competition, but sometimes it looks like a horse race.  Some days the activity in high school appears to be breakthrough, then NCAA Division II.  At the moment, the group to watch is clearly ITGA.

Breakthrough would be good for all of us.  It means people, groups and companies are committed, passionate, and invested in doing more to really connect us all together.

With this post, we start the “ITGA” tag where you will find posts about how college towns are making community happen.

Make a Comment     Top ↑