I submitted a shortened (770 words) version of the following to the Redding Record Searchlight, to their “Say Your Piece” opinion page. This version is approximately 1400 words long. The 770 version is definitely “tighter” and gets the same point across, but this version has my rambling.
Redding—one year later.
It is human nature to focus on the negative, the bad things. These seem newsworthy. They are what you want fixed. When I first arrived here, I wrote a speak your piece, as a response to Redding as a future tech hub. I am sure it was perceived as being somewhat negative—it was—although I intended it to have some corrective thoughts; nascent ideas for change. It was my impression after just moving.
I would like to go “positive” this time, with one last negative observation: Redding and the surrounding area is too negative in the media! This, coming from me who has never been known as an optimist. The doom and gloom messages I see both in the newspaper and in social media are astonishing. It is like one giant crotchety old man sitting on the porch drinking his sports pack of thirty beers. Yeah, I’m picturing Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. The thing is that even Clint’s character Walt Kowalski could change. Maybe “we” can too.
What I have seen in the past year is a lot of people reach out to me and tell me what is going on in Redding that is positive. It really is. There is a real movement out there to make life more dynamic and interesting for the Millennials and Gen Z. Guess what, that benefits us older guys (yeah, I admit it, I am firmly in middle age—even if my brain hasn’t accepted it). This gives me hope that when my current 10-year-old goes off to college (and yes, I still regret that she doesn’t even have the option of going to a public four-year college here, but I digress) that she might consider coming back. At least maybe it won’t be “not even on the list!”
Groups like Catalyst, Shasta EDC, and Shasta Venture HUB are all positive things. We, the mid-lifers and older generation need to embrace this change. Change can be good. Even Walt Kowalski figured that out. He also figured out that it is the younger generation that is going to keep any change going. Let’s embrace that too.
The potential for Redding is here. One of my skills, since I have a huge ego I can talk about myself in a positive light (something Redding could learn, get an ego!) … one of my skills is cooking. I am one of those cooks that could do well in Chopped. I can take a set of ingredients and come up with something, not just blindly follow a recipe. Redding has a lot of good ingredients! Just like Chopped, it also has some funky ones. That is what makes it fun. It can develop its own, unique, personality. Redding does not need to blindly try and follow a recipe. It does not need to try and replicate success of another city, such as Bend. Its ingredients are different.
Let’s examine some of the ingredients.
The obvious ones that get talked about all the time. Natural beauty. Natural resources. A year-round, big river. Proximity to national forests and mountains. Water. We all know these, but just like cooking, you need to remind yourself that you have some basic, fresh, ingredients that everyone loves.
People. This is a bit like every corporation saying “people are our biggest asset,” and then every employee gags and says yeah, that’s why you laid off a bunch of us. But, it is still a key ingredient. It is an asset. Redding is changing. Like Walt Kowalski, you have to accept that your neighbors are not like you. But, guess what? They are. They are people. They are the future. They are a key ingredient to Redding’s future. Right now some of the change is like a tiny bit of spice to a bland dish, but I’m hopeful that Redding learns to like spicy food and welcomes more change in its people. Embrace it, people. Don’t let this ingredient go to waste and don’t let it rot either. When the Catalyst group puts on a beer fest, or a TedX event. GO! Post it on Facebook (much as I hate Zuckerberg). Spend money and enjoy. Yeah, these could be promoted better, have better websites, but help out. Spread the word. Help FIX it. Don’t keep your circle small.
I-5. It is an asset. I-5 connects the West Coast. However, it is also a funky ingredient, see below.
Cheap(er) housing, land, labor. This is one of those double edged swords. California has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, because of the cost of living in the urban centers. For California, this area is affordable. It too is a funky ingredient.
Let’s jump to the funky ingredients. This is like in Chopped where you are told to make something with ingredients that are either really strange, or leftovers.
Changing population, changing demographics. This is another funky ingredient. People come here for all sorts of reasons. What we want is people to stay for the right reasons. One right reason is feeling that they can make a difference. The beauty of a smaller city is a smaller group of people can make a difference. Likeminded people need to band together and realize it doesn’t take that many to make a difference, compared to a large city. That is a huge advantage over some areas. Right now Redding is in flux. In chaos. That is a good thing, from the perspective that we can shape our own future now, better than any other time. I studied a bit of chaos theory years ago. The interesting things happen on the edge of chaos. Not in the static side, not in the pure chaos side, but on the edge. Redding is there. Fun. Leverage it.
I5 is not all good. It is great to be on the main artery of the West Coast…but. But, it cuts the city up and makes it easy to drive right through. I know I said don’t try and imitate, or follow a recipe, but good cooking also means get inspired by other dishes and then use the ingredients. Bend has a highway going through it that almost forces you to slow down and see Bend. Now, Redding is not going to be able to modify an interstate. However, there has to be creative ways to get people to slow down and think about Redding in a different way. Similarly, there has to be ways to create more neighborhoods of attraction here.
Infrastructure. This turns out to be a funky ingredient. My initial complaint when I first came was all about technology and infrastructure. These issues are real and I haven’t changed my mind on them, but the beauty is that you get to leapfrog if you want to. Examples of this abound around the world. Many countries had terrible phone systems. Getting a new phone line could take years. As cell service technology took off, these countries ignored the landline that they were having so much trouble with and cell service and technology in those countries was much better than it was in the U.S. They leapfrogged. Smaller cities, if they have the guts, can do the same thing. Embrace change. Go for the leapfrog, not the catch up.
At the end of Gran Torino, Walt lets himself get killed to save the Hmong boy. I don’t think we have to make that much of a sacrifice and indeed the movie made clear that Walt was dying of cancer, lessening the sacrifice to some degree. The metaphor, albeit stretched, holds here. We all will need to make sacrifices, young and old. But, even the old codger sitting on the porch talking about the way it used to be can change. The good old days are a static snapshot. You don’t go back to them; you create a new set of good old days that the millennials will talk about in thirty, forty, fifty years.
To mix the metaphors. We can make a great dish out of these ingredients, as long as people get out of our way, or help. And don’t sabotage the cool new oven that we