I started off writing this month’s column about the top 20 things to do for free or cheap in Carleton Place. I started a list, a very long list….things like visiting our 16 local parks, hiking or biking hundreds of kilometers of local trails, boating, theatre, live music, walking the labyrinth, learning the fascinating tales of our local history, treasure hunting for antiques, not to mention the shopping and food scene. You know what though – writing about weekly Cruise Nights, the Farmer’s Market and the umpteen weekly events made me feel like a broken record. Whether it’s in friendly conversation, heated debate, online, in person or in print you’ve all heard me say all of this a million times before. I don’t need to tell you about the hidden treasures we have. What goes unsaid, or unheard perhaps is the message behind it all. The urgency behind it all. Carleton Place is sitting poised on a precipice; perched atop of hill ready to plummet at light speed in one direction or another. I’m not usually one for doom and gloom dramatics and quite honestly no matter which way we end up going life will go on. There will be businesses and houses and school and cars….the difference is in the details. The vision that you or I or anyone has when we think about the community we want. The community we want our families to have.
The textbook definition of community is very vague – “…a set of people living in a particular space or region”. So rest assured unless we all decide to pack up and move we’ll still be a community and life will still go on. Here’s the thing though. I have a white picket fence-rose coloured glasses – Stars Hallow view of community. A little naïve perhaps and a little ambitious but hey what’s life without ambition?
Those who know me know I’m not one for the status quo. When I moved back to the area and started a family I started thinking quite a lot about community. My definition includes things like living authentically without fear of being judged or condemned, working together towards common goals, accepting that conflict occurs but can be resolved quickly and without drama, where forgiveness is offered freely and people feel safe to try and even fail chasing big dreams, and where there is a sense of comradery or even family among neighbours. As I said – ambitious. Here’s the thing though ambitious is not synonymous with impossible. Truth be told we have a lot of these things already. Perhaps some concepts need to be nurtured a bit better but in general Carleton Place we have good bones. Nothing proves that more than how passionately people debate about our strengths and weaknesses, how unified we become in crisis or to help one of our own or how this community has spawned some of the most tireless cheerleaders I think any town has ever known. But here we are – on this hill – teetering and ready for the ride of our lives.
So friends, neighbours, strangers…what’s your vision? If you could dream big and Carleton Place was just another round of SimCity with unlimited budget and you at the helm…where would you fall? Highways, box stores, Multi-plex cinemas and factories. Unique shops, a local art scene, a pedestrian downtown core….can we not have both? Can we find the balance? Work together for a common vision? Can we have our cake and eat it too? I would like to think that we can with a strong enough core community can’t we survive the sometimes dark shadow cast by urban sprawl? I mean if communities like the Glebe and Westboro can survive in the nation’s capital and still maintain a unique identity why can’t we? Can’t we decide as a unified group what we want to be? Set aside personal agendas and past slights to come together? Can we pave half of paradise and leave the rest? I think we can. I think we’re half way there.
So here’s my war cry Carleton Place – “Come Together”! Stop focusing on the problems, stop the landslide of negativity – realize that as a community we are on the same boat – let’s not start punching holes in the hull. Understand that what is good for one of us is good for all of us. Be encouraging, be supportive and no that doesn’t mean that you have to do all your shopping downtown or eat out five nights a week or agree with everything that the mayor and council does. It does mean that you have to accept that nothing is going to go all your way. It means embracing your community and capitalizing on what it is to you. If you like fine dining then by all means check out the Chesswood or Generations Inn. If you have three screaming kids maybe chip truck once a week. If you enjoy theatre and the arts then make sure to add something local to your rotation. Like shopping? Commit to spending even $50 month somewhere other than the city or Walmart. No one person can change the world and no one person should be made to feel responsible for the job.
The only certainty (aside from death and taxes) is that progress happens. All the arguing and pettiness and complaining does is take control out of our hands. Wouldn’t a boat with two oars rowing in a direction (any direction) be better than one where we’ve tossed the second one because it wasn’t up to snuff? I know, I know – cut it out with the water analogies Cavanagh…but we do after all ask people to come and “Meet us on the Mississippi”…should we all not be better at rowing the damn boat?!