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The new normal - in a pig's eye

Everyone seems to be on the move these days — even four-footed friends in the animal kingdom.

Sheriff’s dispatchers last week reported two horses and a llama that were out for a leisurely stroll down K-15 before they turned off onto a country road.

Tuesday morning in Marion, a more brazen pair of pigs began lengthening their seemingly daily parade past police officers’ homes. The pigs’ latest route was south on Cedar St. to Hudson St., west on Hudson to Elm St., then south on Elm. They stayed long enough to visit a garden, then headed back east across Locust and Lincoln Sts. to the vicinity of the 400 blocks of Cedar, Roosevelt, and Freeborn Sts., when they eluded pursuit by one of the officers whose home they earlier had passed.

Life, even in the animal kingdom, seems to be adjusting to the new normal of our coronavirus pandemic. Some of it isn’t pretty, like the almost nightly ambulance calls from a Florence residence where large quantities — half a gallon, at last report — of liquor are being consumed.

But plenty of people appear to be making more than just half-gallons of lemonade out of the lemons we’ve been dealt.

Nowhere has that been more apparent than in Hillsboro, where a very active chamber of commerce has transformed itself into a merry band of lemon-squeezers, creating on a regular basis a series of family-friendly, COVID-safe events like this coming weekend’s family fun, food, and movie night.

Rather than lament business lost to the pandemic or insist on plowing forward with the same events, as if the pandemic were some of East Coast liberal hoax designed to un-elect President Trump, the Hillsboro chamber has identified new events that can be safely enjoyed, then extensively promoted them to combat whatever malaise might accompany the pandemic.

Peabody and Florence have tried to do much the same, albeit with more limited promotional budgets. Other communities would be well-advised to follow their lead — not by trying to re-institute what was lost to legitimate health concerns but by re-inventing events so that they safely can be conducted.

Restaurants are a prime example how re-invention works. An eatery can bemoan how it cannot be a sit-down gathering spot for klatches of gabby neighbors or how its entire business model of being an all-you-can-eat buffet has been tossed out like so much no-longer-edible leftovers. Or it can do as Hillsboro’s Panda Kitchen has done and re-invent itself as a takeout-only restaurant, much as Marion’s Wagon Wheel Express has become.

Doubting the severity of the pandemic is like removing your face mask and spitting in the wind. Not everything in every celebration can be saved, of course. It’s doubtful, for example, that Old Settlers Day class reunions in Marion will be possible on anywhere near a scale that could be deemed successful. Instead of trying to preserve what we cannot, perhaps it’s time to shift plans entirely.

Re-inventing an event doesn’t mean taking a few pieces of it and trying to preserve them. It also doesn’t mean simply giving up and scheduling nothing in an event’s place. It means fewer big events and more small ones, possibly quite different and probably scattered out over multiple weeks to create a constant feeling of activity. Just because we can’t have what we want doesn’t mean we must give up or flail in vain to try to have it anyway.

What’s needed is leadership like that exhibited by the Hillsboro chamber — and, more important, the financial support that an established organization like the chamber and its sibling convention and visitor’s bureau can provide.

Communities’ economic development depends not just on getting grants and selling vacant buildings. It depends on making certain there’s always something going on so the community can look and feel like a vibrant place.

That’s hard to do on a piecemeal basis, when ad-hoc sponsors are constantly pleading for support for a succession of one-off projects. A solid infrastructure is a necessity — an infrastructure like Hillsboro’s chamber, which has a budget and doesn’t have to beg for every dime to support ad-hoc projects. If businesses can’t or won’t provide that budget, municipal government should.

Broad-based community events are at least as important as ballgames enjoyed by a relative few. Municipalities fund huge infrastructures that hire umpires, stock concession stands, and maintain athletic fields. Should they not also be stepping up to support forms of recreation other than participatory sports, which probably belong more in the realm of schools than cities anyway?

It’s time for local government to invest not just in the physical infrastructure of its community but also its social, cultural, and entertainment infrastructure — the types of things, other than sweetheart tax deals, that might actually lure people and businesses to the community.

Otherwise, the only parades we’ll be seeing are likely to be those of a porcine variety. Give your city council member an oink if you agree.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Sept. 9, 2020

 

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