The Ice Cream Truck Scourge: I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at our California Desert division's annual director seminar. It was a wonderful success, and the clients in attendance seemed highly engaged and appreciative of the event.
During preparations for my presentation, I was browsing through various articles in my files and came upon an email forwarded from an industry friend that she received from a homeowner. It was so humorous, yet disturbing, I kept it for posterity. The email went something like this:
"Margo, I find it totally unacceptable that every afternoon I have to listen to the ice cream truck driving around our neighborhood. I moved into a gated community to escape 'The Ice Cream Trucks of the World.' I insist that you stop them immediately."
What? Really? When did ice cream trucks become a metaphor for all things that are bad things in this world? I remember quite fondly from my youth the sound of the ice cream truck as it approached every afternoon. A world of limitless deliciousness heading straight towards me! What could be better than than?
Is this homeowner's sentiment a symptom of a larger issue? I think it is.
My keynote address spoke of community associations as ecosystems. Ecosystems' are closed systems that sustain themselves through the interdependent relationships of its members. Think of a forest or the ocean- each member contributes to the overall health of the group. Ecosystems are threatened only when external influences are introduced into it. Just ask the dinosaurs, or our climate for that matter.
Obviously, community associations can never be fully closed systems, as our homeowners introduce external influences into them every day. Those influences are the social, physical and cultural changes that our world has been experiencing for decades now. Space limitations do not allow me to explore each of those changes here, but I believe this confluence of forces has resulted in the long term decline in social capital in our communities and the world around us. One need only to listen to the tone of the current presidential campaign to see that civility has become a rare commodity these days. Social capital is characterized by trust, engagement, reciprocity and mutual respect among neighbors and in society. In the thirty years I've been in the community management industry, it seems to me that the fundamentals of what we do has not changed in all those years, yet the business is harder than ever. I suspect if you have been in this business for any period of time, you feel the same.
I share with the conference attendees the following model used by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to analyze and predict behaviors.
Called the Social-Ecological Model of Health, it explores the characteristics of the individual (age, race, education, income), relationships (peers, family, social circles), community (physical surroundings of workplace, school, neighborhoods) and society (social norms, laws, policies) to predict behavior and long term physical and mental health. Note that these are overlapping, not concentric, circles. This speaks to the fact that each of these four factors influences the others.
In my presentation, I asked the simple questions of our clients as to where they believe the community association falls among these four overlapping circles. The answer is ALL of them. The communities that we manage affect the individuals, their neighbors and peers, the physical setting in which interactions occur and creates and influences policies and social norms not just for its own sake, but the larger society as well.
If our homeowners are bringing into our communities all sorts of external influences, then we (and our clients) need to understand our role in counteracting those influences through the policies, tone, style and programs/practices of our communities. Acknowledging that everything about the community association touches every aspect of the social-ecological model necessitates a new thinking in how we mange them. If we believe that our and the association's mission is merely to enforce the CCR's, then we need to aim higher.
Our mission should be- NEEDS to be – the cultivation of social capital within our communities. In every action we take, and every policy we make, consideration needs to be given to its impact to the overall trust, engagement, reciprocity and mutual respect of/for/among our community members.
If we are successful in reestablishing such social capital in our communities, the very nature of them will change. Not only will there be a positive change to practical issues such as compliance matters, but the communities themselves will begin to enjoy a very different sort of vitality.
Let that be our mission.
-Bill Sasser, President & CEO of The Management Trust