See communities as others see us

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

I didn’t know the names of many of the streets in the small town where I grew up. I didn’t need to. Everyone knew where everything was.

I know more of the streets in my present home town, which is a fraction of the size of the town where I grew up, but I rarely have to refer to them. The other day, I realized that I had really put down roots when I found myself directing someone to a new eatery in town by telling them it was “where Hardee’s used to be.”

The person was puzzled. He hasn’t lived in the area for long, and he had no idea where Hardee’s used to be.

Email newsletter signup

As I started to tell him how to get there, I recalled that there’s not a street sign at the corner where he should turn. There hasn’t been for quite some time. I resorted to telling him, “After you pass the children’s playground (it doesn’t have a prominent sign, either) go another block and turn right by the yellow house.”

I hope he found the place.

I am not picking on my home town. I’ve been in many other communities that present equally as daunting a challenge for the stranger trying to find his way around. They’re usually smaller towns where the natives really do describe landmarks by who used to live there.

I think we see our communities the way we treat our homes.

At home, we get accustomed to the way things are. The stack of magazines piled on a table, the sagging curtain, the nail hole in the wall that we haven’t quite gotten around to repairing don’t really grab our attention.

It’s only when we’re expecting special company, or we’re trying to sell the place, that we really begin to see what’s right in front of us. Many home sellers seek expert advice to show their home in the best possible light.

There are people who are in the business of “staging” homes to show them in the most appealing way to potential buyers. They even have a trade organization called the International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

“Designed to Sell,” a popular show on Home&Garden Television, uses a designer, a $2,000 budget, some manpower and the homeowners’ labor, to boost the home’s sales appeal. The makeover begins with the homeowners watching on closed circuit television as a real estate expert goes through the home offering an unvarnished appraisal of how a potential buyer would see it.

The homeowners often wince at what they hear.

We would wince in our communities, too, I suspect, if we could hear a first-time visitor make the same kind of critical appraisal.

Just as the homeowners overlook their dwelling’s flaws and clutter, we don’t notice the missing signs, the grass growing over the curb, the broken sidewalks, or the litter along the roadside.

But strangers do notice those things.

And the impression we make is important. Communities are increasingly reliant on outsiders to bolster their economies, courting tourists, who come, spend money, and leave and retirees who come and bring money with them.

Let’s face it. We live in our houses; we don’t keep them as if they were on the Parade of Homes. We live in our communities, too; they’re not pristine, pretend communities seen only by visitors to a theme park.

Even so, we could benefit from trying to see our communities as others see us. A little civic pride can go a long way.

(Speaking of awareness, the wild flowers in our part of Alabama are at their peak. Take time to look before they fade away.)

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at

(c)2005 William B. Brown