The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

June 3, 2013

Carol Stark: Are you standing in the way of fun?

— What is it that’s unique and fun about your town? I would imagine if you live in Lamar you are proud to be the home of the state’s largest free fair.

Residents of Neosho have the nation’s oldest federal fish hatchery of which to boast, while in Hornet, outside of Seneca, there’s a real novelty known as the Spooklight.

Having grown up in Carthage, I equate fun with Kiddieland, a little theme park that’s been run by the Carthage Kiwanis Club for more than 50 years. And now that I live in Joplin, I’m having a great time “exploring” places unknown to me.

Peter Kageyama, a community and economic development consultant, in a session called “For the Love of Joplin,” held this past week, asked his audience what made a town lovable.

When he flashed a picture of a pothole up on the screen in Corley Auditorium at Missouri Southern State University, I thought perhaps I was in the wrong place. No one I know loves potholes.

Kageyama said that while we all appreciate a town that’s pothole-free, there’s nothing remarkable about that. No one is ever going to jump up and down and thank the street department for fixing potholes (Although, a nice thanks wouldn’t be out of order).

So what is it that makes a town lovable?

He showed photos of towns and cities throughout the United States, keying in on public parks, outdoor sculptures and farmers markets. Some of the examples would cost a fortune to build, but others were as simple as setting up a cleverly disguised garden hose in a neighborhood to make a “fountain” where kids can play.

While I might not think the idea of hanging swings in random places all over town is a great idea, they did in at least one place featured in Kageyama’s program.

And that’s about the place in the program that I got it: A big part of making a town a fun place to live is all about standing back and letting the creativity flow — even if you don’t particularly like it.

Globe reporter Emily Younker wrote in a story that appeared in the May 30 edition of our paper that city leaders should value entrepreneurship.

People who create “small projects with a lot of heart (that) can be absolute game-changers,” Kageyama said, pointing as an example to an artist who puts inspiring messages on the sidewalks of New Orleans using spray-chalk and a stencil.

Kageyama said cities need to find ways to engage their residents and keep them invested locally. City leaders shouldn’t “squelch the enthusiasm” of those who have ideas but should try to encourage and welcome them, he said.

As I listened, I wondered if I might be one of those “squelchers.” After all, I would never have let my kids draw on the walls, let alone write “messages” on city sidewalks. But I do appreciate those “trees” made out of blue wine bottles, so maybe there’s still some hope for me.

Towns trying to make a comeback — whether it be from a weather disaster or a major plant closing — are paying close attention to Kageyama’s message.

You see, fun towns are also profitable towns, and that makes them smart towns.

As I looked around the auditorium, I saw representatives from Carl Junction, Duquesne and Webb City there, in addition to those from Joplin.

I don’t think Kageyama’s ideas are just a flash in the pan, and neither would you if you had heard the excited conversations that followed the program.

While I might never organize a flash mob on Main Street, I vow that I won’t be the one who tries to drown out all the fun.

As I listened to Kageyama, I briefly thought about a time in my life when I divided people into two categories: There were the ones who understood and appreciated “Far Side” cartoons, and there were those who didn’t. I personally think talking cows are funny.

I want to live in a town where people play, laugh and have a good time.

So count me in when it comes to the fun. Just don’t make me dance in the middle of Main Street.

Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email cstark@joplinglobe.com. Follow Carol Stark on Twitter @carolstark30.

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