A week ago, our community reached another exciting milestone that has not been celebrated for years. Hundreds of people came together to contribute to a community vision. The energy in the room was palpable.
Sure, our community has come together in the past, but often in adversity. The Ice Storm demonstrated the power of nature and our need for each other, as did the flooding of Lake Champlain last spring and of our rivers last fall. And, we were united in our indignation when it was decided to discontinue Plattsburgh Air Force Base while lesser bases in more politically powerful regions were spared.
In retrospect, the Air Force Base closure may have been a blessing in disguise. It allowed us to transition into a more sustainable future that was less dependent on federal government largesse.
And, it forced us to take our economic future into our own hands under a shared vision. We are still rebuilding, and our economic trajectory has taken some surprising but productive turns.
The base transition allowed us to convert public infrastructure into private/public partnerships. These are the two legs in the three-legged stool that props up our society.
The third leg, our social infrastructure, is much more interesting and just as essential. We rely on good government to invest in our future so we will have good roads and schools. We must also have faith that private companies know how much they must invest in their enterprises to remain competitive. However, it is our collective job to invest in our social infrastructure.
Last week, Mountain Lake Public Broadcasting brought local leaders and many from the community into its studio and invited the television audience to participate by calling in. The subject was the arts, in general, and completion of the Strand Theatre renovation, in particular.
I've written about the transformational effect this project will have on our community. However, this time it was about the medium, not the message. Indeed, other messages will be delivered in a similar forum every quarter. Next, the community will discuss recreation and the Saranac River Trail, and then transportation, education and the Destination Master Plan.
It was precisely the medium, though, that was our milestone. For too long, we have been a community where things happened to us. Ice storms and floods, blizzards and base closings, prisons and closures and Albany largesse and frugality have raised and ravaged our economy, and we have had little to say about it.
Now, though, we have a chance to take back our future. We assembled, talked and laughed, and we sensed optimism in the air. Perhaps a hundred in that room and a thousand who may have watched the airings asked, how can we get involved? How can our organizations join in this success? What will this mean to us, to the relatives who come to visit us, to tourists who come to experience only one thing — something that is not available where they live.
On that night, we may have had more questions than answers. That is the idea. Too often, people come to our community with answers, without ever engaging us. If some of these efforts ultimately failed, it may have been because we did not consider their innovations ours. Now, though, we have a chance, in the arts, recreation, transportation and education, and in the Destination Master Plan, for us to weigh in.
Yes, in this case, it is the feeling of something grassroots forming around us and between us that I found so exciting. While the reason may have been the arts this time, the sense of community this can build may even be a greater gift to our region than a wonderfully restored theater where we can enjoy opera, folk singing, plays, community speakers, forums or almost anything our community's mind can imagine.
Don't we all long to be engaged, involved and part of our own future? Isn't it pretty depressing when we are not?
That evening, I felt we took our first step in what I believe will be a long and happy march.
Along the way, let's not look back with ghosts of the past. It is time to fling this gate wide open.
Colin Read is the chair of the Department of Economics and Finance at SUNY Plattsburgh. His eighth book, Great Minds in Finance — the Rise of the Quants, is coming out this May. Continue the discussion at www.pressrepublican.com/0216_read.