Publication Note: This column was first published in the December 15, 2016 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format. It is the 1st installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column.
In February 2016, a room packed with business, nonprofit, and government leaders was assembled for a single purpose–to appreciate the people and accomplishments that make one small town special. That multigenerational gathering of stakeholders at the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Banquet represented nearly 7% of the population of our town – a significant turnout indicative of both the diversity and engagement among the citizens of Lonoke. During his remarks to this crowd, Chamber President Adam Starks raised an important question that continues to challenge and inspire me: If Lonoke did not exist, what would be missing from our region?
In considering that question, I find myself generating an ever-lengthening list of positive qualities that make our community unique, and therefore essential to our region and our State. Moreover, I find it encouraging that I am not the only one eager to answer this question with a genuine belief in the opportunity and possibility that exists here in our hometown. It also strikes me that many of these qualities are overlooked and often not considered in light of the larger context of our geography, demographics, and logistics. I believe it would be productive, helpful, and inspiring to unpack and explore together those unique things that make life in Lonoke special.
It is that premise which inspires this newspaper column. It is my hope to create a dialogue where the numerous and varied answers to this question can be brought to light and considered individually and on a regular basis. It is my desire for this column to feature an intentional celebration those things which we know elevate our quality of life and the way we experience community together. It just might be that some of these ideas have not been considered in a long time. Or perhaps these ideas have not necessarily been articulated in the context and language that I hope to espouse here. That is why I feel this is a necessary discussion. As a small Delta community of 4,287, we certainly have challenges. However, we also have advantages that help us meet those challenges with creativity and intentionality. In order to do so, we must recognize and regularly remind one another of those advantages. Town planner Victor Dover of Dover, Kohl & Partners speaks of the concept of “local distinctiveness,” the idea that each place possesses particular natural and cultural assets that should be recognized and leveraged in ways that elevate and build community.
We have a forum provided by this publication and a foundation that has been built by our community’s leaders and stakeholders. What would Lonoke look like if those of us who live here possessed a clearer understanding of why our community’s existence is important? What if we pursued a vision for a connected, healthy town, confident in its foundation and its future? As we explore these answers collaboratively, I believe a vision will emerge which will unify our city and inspire a new generation of leaders who are ready to move forward in an inclusive way, giving those around us a fresh, new reason to Look at Lonoke.
Ryan Biles is an architect and a 12-year resident of Lonoke, serving as a Board Member of the George Washington Carver Alumni Association, the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce, and a former member of the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission. His wife Natalie is a small business owner and Interior Designer who writes for SHINEDESIGNBLOG.COM and operates Shine Home Studio from a space in downtown Lonoke. They are raising three young sons in a mid-century fixer-upper.