Love of community starts at home—Valley residents must boost the region

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I recently attended—as an observer—the “Meeting of the Minds,” a presentation and discussion on the Creative Economy Council’s report titled Making the Grass Greener: Recommendations to Retain, Attract, Develop, and Support Knowledge Workers. As a “knowledge worker,” and one interested in helping make Fresno and other Valley communities more vibrant, I was impressed with the report and the discussion, but I walked away with more questions than answers.

A clear challenge was presented at this meeting and left unaddressed.

Amidst a brainstorming session regarding what would make current Valley residents love their communities more—parks, a light rail system, free wi-fi downtown—a woman stood up and identified herself as a resident of San Diego. She’s been in Fresno “on assignment” for a few months now, and has been asking people a simple question: “What 10 reasons can you give me to move here?” To clarify, she pointed out that she has a great job, her house is almost paid off, her kids are at college—and again, she lives in San Diego! Why would she want to move? She made it clear that no one had been able to give her 10 solid reasons to move to Fresno.

As a recent transplant from North Carolina, who came here chasing love and the California dream, I started to contemplate answers to the question. Everyone in the room that night did.

The more I thought, the more I realized that I couldn’t offer a single reason for this lady to choose the Valley over San Diego, especially given her roots there. In fact, I found it difficult to come up with 10 reasons that couldn’t be associated with an even greater deterrent. For example: the Valley is among the most fertile places in the world, so fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful; however, we have one of the highest food insecurity rates in the country.

But I suppose that every argument has a rebuttal and every pro has a con. Maybe a better approach is to list our greatest qualities, despite their counterparts or similarities to other communities. Perhaps if we have enough passion about these qualities, the arguments against don’t matter as much.

After all, passion begets passion.

So what do we have here? Plans for the future are great, but why invest in the Valley’s future if we can’t enjoy—to some extent—its current offerings. What top 10 things do we have, right now. Below I offer my personal favorites, without numbers to avoid ranking:

Food: Fresh and diverse—it just doesn’t get any better.

Education: I love the talent at Fresno’s Sunnyside High, but the truth is that each school adds unique value to the community.

Diversity: We lack cohesion, but the mix of ethnicities and cultures here is unmatched.

Festivals. I’m still new to many of these, but it seems like there’s some sort of celebration every weekend!

Higher Education: Specifically, the American Humanics program at California State University, Fresno, and the teaching program at Fresno Pacific University. I admire their commitment to excellence.

History: This takes on many forms, but each major cultural district—Sunnyside, Tower, downtown, Riverpark—is marked with a distinct timestamp.

Non-Profits: The work these organizations do each day is inspiring. The Valley can’t survive without them.

Growth: It demands change. Yes, that’s a good thing!

Opportunity: There’s plenty of opportunity to get involved, to change someone’s life, to be a part of the solution.

That’s my list. I leave one spot unfilled to represent everything that I might have forgotten. And no, I don’t count the fact that we are in the middle of everything else that’s cool in California. Nor do I consider the lure of cheaper homes or less traffic, since our homes aren’t cheap when compared to other similar-sized communities across the county, and our traffic is starting to rival that of the greater cities in the state.

It’s a simple idea that the woman from San Diego had, but creating a list of the Valley’s top qualities is quite powerful. Criticism is important as new (and old) ideas float around, but cynicism isn’t. It’s time for all of us to find something we love—something we’re passionate about—and get involved in making our community something that we all want it to be.

To promote their report, the CEC has also produced a video. It concludes with Fresno Mayor Alan Autry declaring “…I love Fresno.” I smile at the mere thought of how cheesy this is—but imagine how positive our community would be if more people actually said the same three words every once in a while.

James Collier is the Web writer at Fresno Pacific University. Formerly marketing and development director at Community Food Bank of Fresno, he is interested in community issues.

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