“Residing” suggests we merely inhabit an address, a kind of cold, lifeless state; “living” suggests we are alive in a community, a warm, comforting state. It’s the difference between feeling “outside of” or “apart from” as opposed to feeling “in” and “a part of” a place.
How do we more fully “live” a place, though? It’s not a thing that happens without effort for anyone anywhere. Regardless of your location, you still have to make it your own and feel it’s yours. So how do we do it?
I think first, we acknowledge the obvious: it doesn’t happen by accident. We all have to make an effort to create a life. We (those of use in the “Decatur-business,” which could be everyone) have to work at building the means for people to connect, to set roots, and to feel “in.” And while being able to buy a house for less here than in Atlanta or Seattle is important, the price of a house alone doesn’t build a sense of belonging. It takes more than a house to feel you’re home.
So what are our best “feeling-alive-in-our-community” assets? What about Decatur can connect people to people, and people to activities that bring them a quality life? I’ll start small: children. On this front, we have good starts. The Children’s Museum of Central Illinois is an obvious asset. An asset, too, is our new effort to improve education. Other assets are our corporate residents. ADM, Caterpillar, and Tate & Lyle figure prominently in the mix, as do all the small-businesses that fuel our economy. Our educational institutions are also keys. RCC and Millikin University give us many added advantages. The Park District also contributes to our attractiveness (have you compared the cost of playing golf here versus Springfield or seen the programs for young people?).
Even with all these advantages, though, much of our “conversation” comes back to the notion that “there’s something missing here.” We can’t get past feeling that we don’t “live in a great place.” This view comes across in odd dialogue, and sounds like “well, yes, I live in Decatur, but only because that’s where my job is…we’ll be moving soon…we are gone most weekends traveling anyway…we spend a lot of time in Chicago.” Again, these resound a kind of “I reside there, but don’t live there” theme.
I think more than any single business or amenity, what’s missing is our collective will to live here, without apology, and to contribute to making here, where we live, alive. What’s “missing” is us.
Why are “we” the key to Decatur? Being seen, making the effort to discover what is here and, by doing so, encouraging others to do the same, matters. Behaving “locally” by how we spend our time builds lives—our own and those of others. Perhaps, each of us should resolve to discover one new thing about Decatur—do it, partake in it, and take a small step in breaking the myth that “there’s nothing to do in Decatur.” Call it a kind of community philanthropy: give of your presence to help build your community’s sense of itself as a great place to live. Get into the Decatur-business. Kirkland will certainly welcome your efforts. As will, I’m sure, our merchants, museums, park district, and schools.
- Barry Pearson
Director, Kirkland Fine Arts Center