Turn on the television and you are bound to catch one of the countless holiday shows whose purpose is to remind us that Christmas is just around the corner. Most of our favorite holiday movies or shows are as full of saccharine as the chocolates and baked goods that we’ll consume this holiday season. Yet I, like a large percentage of Americans, seem to lap this up year after year. I somehow need their assurance that we are all connected and that one person’s actions can make a difference. Look no further than my husband’s favorite, “It’s a Wonderful Life” for a heavy dose of this medicine. Christmas, it seems, is about community and our role in helping to shape it and improve the lives of all those -- from the child with the very least, to the lonely senior citizen, and even to our co-workers and a boss who may be a bit of a Scrooge.
These holiday films speak to us, I believe, in showing us through humor, or songs, or animated characters that we are not alone. This is comforting, but also brings with it a responsibility. Embedded in the holidays is the concept of giving and sharing our blessings with those who have less whether through programs like Toys for Tots or responding to the ringing bell of the Salvation Army volunteer. We are reminded that no matter how overwhelming life can seem at times, each of us can make a positive impact through our own actions – after all, it was one haggard Bethlehem inn keeper offering up a spare room out back that made all the difference in the world.
It can be easy in our daily lives working as planners, policy makers or elected officials to forget that these same concepts of community, of individual responsibility and of compassion also underscore our work. The endless public meetings, reams of data and modeling projections, and the sometimes painful process of community engagement in a digital age at times have made me feel like George Bailey when he’s at his lowest. It’s hard not to feel this way – especially when you’ve given your best ideas and countless hours in pursuit of a policy you believe deep in your soul is critical to your community’s future --- only to have it fall apart by one entrenched and self-interested naysayer. I was reminded this year though, that we are also not alone in our policy pursuits.
Each of us, as planner or policy maker, are a contributor - not the sole creator - to realizing a sustainable future be it through working to ensure affordable housing is provided for people of all income levels, providing mobility options that will help to heal the planet while reducing family cost burdens, or to “simply” make a great place. We do this work in partnership not only with those who may be on our project team, but with players and partners we may never see – the citizen who becomes motivated by new data they discovered on Twitter, the elected official whose constituent spurs them to action, or the journalist who recognizes that beneath the wonky planning lingo there are issues of social justice, economic competitiveness or perhaps even a hint of scandal. To paraphrase from one of my favorite holiday movies, it’s not just at Christmas that “community really is all around us.”