Hype or hope?

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The story of rural decline in Nova Scotia is well-documented: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/rural-nova-scotia-faces-demographic-reality-of-elderly-declining-population/article2445958/

We’re getting old. Well-paid industrial jobs have become harder to find in much of Canada and we’re no exception. Young people are leaving small towns in droves, flocking to big centres or leaving the Maritimes altogether.

If you’re waiting for a ‘but’, you’re out of luck. The above facts are just true and, honestly, it’s far from certain we can change this trend.

Improved technology may help. A decade from now, it will be even less necessary for people to congregate in offices to get work done. Telecommuting will be more common – someday it may be the norm. Then the cheap real estate prices offered by less populated regions will have more appeal.

But is there something we can do now to improve the chances of a turnaround?

There are probably a number of things, and I’m no sociologist or urban planner. I have my one idea, though, and I thought I’d float it here.

Note the word ‘float’. That means this idea may be nuts. I’m genuinely interested in getting feedback. Tell me this is stupid. Tell me it’s great. Tell me you’re going to take action and do it.

OK, enough buildup. Here goes.

The long-term survival of Amherst is dependent on keeping and attracting young people. This is undeniable. No new Amherstonians, no Amherst.

Now, one thing we have lots of is effective fundraisers. Quietly, without a lot of fanfare, this is a philanthropic community. A ton of cash is raised here for good causes. What better cause than the future of the town?

So, a new charity. Call it Youth Action, or something similar. Cheesy, I know, but young people are always giving pseudo-Marxist names to their charities, so might as well stick with what kids like.

Youth Action would raise $100,000 in Cumberland County: $70k for operations and event hosting, and $30k for prize money.

That’s right, YA would be giving away 30 large.

We poll all the young people in town, do research, too, and come up with an annual event. Maybe it’s a green expo, maybe a film festival. It could be a hip-hop or literary contest, or the Canadian championships of skateboarding, or a small town battle of the bands, where small towns across Canada get to send one rock band to Amherst. Whatever.

The point is, it would need to be something that would stay relevant year after year, changing with the times, but always focused on appealing to youth and, most importantly, always giving a big cheque to a winner.

Why the big cheque? Money talks. I work in media. If a small town in Nova Scotia announced it was giving a big cheque for a young artist/athlete/scientist, it would make headlines across the country, if not beyond. More importantly, it would immediately create a subculture of youth in the town – and youth elsewhere interested in this town – that were excited about the contest.

For example, let’s say it was a battle of the bands. What do you think would happen if there was suddenly an Amherst contest giving $20,000 to the winner? That’s right, a whole bunch of kids would start forming bands and practicing. And kids across the Maritimes would take notice. Heck, talented kids from B.C. would start thinking about making the drive to Amherst to try and win. Suddenly, we have a lot of youth traffic to this town, and the town’s cachet rises considerably among young people. And hopefully, each year, it would build.

I could go on ad nauseum, but you get the idea. I’m not claiming it’s a great one. It may be terrible – one more “magic fix” that sucks up a lot of money and accomplishes little. But I think there might be something here.

What do you think?

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