July 25, 2011 By Wayne Hanson
Back in the 1970s Kotaku Wamura, the mayor of Fudai, Japan built a huge floodgate between his town and the sea as a protection against tsunamis. He had a difficult time of it -- the thing was incredibly ugly, it encircled the town, and it cost $30 million. But this March, the floodgate saved Fudai from the destruction that hit and destroyed many other coastal Japanese cities. He died in 1997, so never saw the results of his work, but townspeople have been visiting his grave, to thank him for his gift of life.
The floodgate is an example of "what went right." Hundreds of people are alive today who would be dead had Kotaku Wamura not persisted and built the floodgate.
On the other hand, had the tsunami not struck when it did, the floodgate could be dismissed as a boondoggle, a waste of money, an eyesore. But there's a point to make from that. How many "things that went right" are never noticed, much less celebrated?
How many times have teachers, police, counselors or parents, for example, stopped a young offender from spiraling down into addiction or crime? And how many people have thus continued to live their lives not killed in a drive-by shooting, or a drug lab explosion, or the crash of someone speeding while under the influence?
Recently, Fox Charlotte reported that crime in North Carolina has fallen to the lowest point in 33 Years. Murder in Los Angeles is at a 40-year low, Crime in Florida is also at a 40-year low. And these statistics come from a period of unemployment, economic duress, and housing loss in which one could expect crime to spike. So a lot of somethings are going right, and most likely, those somethings are caused by good people working at something they believe in, helping others without expectation of anything other than personal satisfaction. It's just their job or their passion, and they do it well.
Obviously, reducing "what went wrong" is important, and individuals and governments are busily doing just that. But for all the attention "what went wrong" attracts, "what went right" is the story that matters most, even if -- as is often the case -- it is not reported or celebrated. Communities that you and I would want to live in don't just happen. They are created by the Kotaku Wamuras of this world.
Wayne Hanson is editorial director of Digital Communities. His interest is in the future of communities and the elements necessary to create those places in which we would most want to live and work. What makes an ideal community, and how can civic leaders help their cities, counties and regions evolve to better meet old necessities and new opportunities?