During This Crisis Cities Must Think and Act Dramatically Differently

Government acting alone cannot solve the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. We must encourage and challenge our residents to unleash their many talents to help their community cope with this crisis.

ARTICLE | Mar 23, 2020
by Ed Everett, Retired City Manager

Government acting alone cannot solve the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Cities have amazingly smart, creative, resourceful, kind and caring residents who are willing and able to help.  We must encourage and challenge our residents to unleash their many talents to help their community cope with this crisis.  

Cities must engage, empower and encourage, not control or fear, their resident’s involvement to withstand this crisis.  This is an absolute necessity. We will only get through this crisis when our residents reach out and help each other.

Traditionally, many cities have assumed local government can fix any problem without the involvement of its residents. That is just plain wrong. This false promise is exposed during a major crisis. 

I wrote an article for Public Management (Aug 2015: Local Government Model is Broken Let’s Fix It) stating that our current model of government is best described as Bitch and Fix: Residents complain about a problem and expect the city to fix the problem, whatever it is.  Generally, cities demand little of their residents than other payment of taxes.  This is foolish, ineffective and wasteful of the talents and skills in the community. 

Unless cities immediately start to engage their residents and focus on building community, the COVID-19 crises will overwhelm us.  Now is the time for local government to request and challenge residents to figure out what they can do to help their communities, whether that help is medical, financial and social. We need to help all residents understand that they have a responsibility for assisting their community in this difficult and demanding crisis.

The good news is that research shows that during a crisis people, on their own, begin to reach out, help others and build community.  Cities cannot solve this crisis or any other major social epidemic such as child obesity, failing schools, gangs, drugs or homelessness alone.

Here are some ways that residents can help their community:

  • Volunteer to grocery shop for others who can't or shouldn't be out,  
  • Use social media to share ideas on coping with self-isolation and preventing boredom,  
  • Urge retired doctors or nurses to volunteer or provide advice to neighbors,  
  • Encourage teachers to share study plans with parents,   
  • Reach out to a senior care facility in the community,
  • Ban together to help a restaurant or shop stay in business,
  • Assist at food distribution centers, and,  
  • "Pay it forward" by continuing to pay service providers even if not being used this time, such as house cleaners, gardeners, personal trainers, hairdressers, masseurs, dog walkers, house sitters and many others.      

Cities should share these ideas (and others ideas) on their web site, on Nextdoor or other social media outlets to generate additional ideas from their residents.   Residents have a role and responsibility to help with the medical and financial health of others in their community.  During this crisis, cities should be asking people to sacrifice, to help others and to pay it forward.    

We all have better angels but sometimes it takes someone or something to help us release them.   Engaging residents to think about what they can do personally helps release our better angels.

I will leave you with this message. Engage your residents to use their strengths and creativity to help others. Build community by encouraging residents to take some responsibility for the medical and financial security of their community.  Residents are resilient and clever, so please speak to their better angels. I know they will step up!


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