Finding birds of a feather: developing community in the LC Valley

Tony Murillo, Writer

My sister lives right outside Los Angeles. She grew up in the Lewis Clark Valley before moving to Arizona for college and finally moving to California for her career. During her last visit, we had a thorough talk about the valley.
I distinctly remember her telling me about her concerns that this valley could become a “ghost town.” When I allow that thought to sink in, it sounds less extreme. I agree with my sister and stand by that point. Having grown up in Lewiston my whole life, the last thing I want is for that to come true.
Viewing my hometown with ever-changing eyes allows that concern to grow into a real possibility. Why does my sister think this? Why do I agree? Is there something to be done before this happens?
Our initial conversation regarded the closing of Covey’s Bike and Board. We were sad to see the shop go like many others. It was a local shop for bikers and skaters alike. This went beyond being just a shop, however. It was a place for a community, a group of likeminded people could go to a place where they all shared a common interest.
The conversation then moved beyond Covey’s. The natural evolution of talking about the skate shop is the skate park. We both expressed our appreciation for the park’s presence in the Valley. Not only is it a great place to skate, like Covey’s, but also it is a place for a community to band together. It is an efficient way to bring people together. Problems began to arise when we discussed the possibilities of no skate park (or the reality of no Covey’s). Where would said community go if there was no skate park? Would the community even form?
One cannot magically know someone’s interests upon first sight. Places like these bring people together by bringing out mutual interests. This can be important on a social level as it offers a way to talk. What if the park’s absence had an impact beyond building a community? A great deal of people would be without a vehicle for their passion. For some, skating could be their escape. Strip that away and perhaps they would have to skate in areas where it is not allowed. That could potentially lead to problems. If a depressed person’s escape is skating, then taking that away could put them in bad places.
We were aware that at this point the conversation was falling into slippery slope fallacy and general extremes. That still didn’t stop our concerns. We stuck with our guns that offering plenty of healthy activities keeps kids out of trouble. Even things like arcades and malls offer people places to go, an alternative. These areas operate as social venues giving people something to do or just simply a place to be. This combined with strong communities give a sense of belonging.
We went on to discuss what the aftermath of this cycle would be (and how we are already seeing it). So often the “there’s nothing to do in this town” comment gets thrown around. This shouldn’t be a simple result of living in a small town. This is a problem. Small towns should make it easier for communities to grow. Small towns should be places where “everyone knows each other.” However, people are frustrated with the lack of things to do and groups to meet. The typical negative outcomes of this are: hating this town and leaving, hating this town but being stuck or growing complacent. If this process continues, we could very well be faced with the dystopian ghost-town fear becoming reality. It does not have to be this way, and it should not be this way.
A solution exists to help stop this issue. I encourage everyone to get out there and start talking to each other. Communities do not start themselves. Take the music scene, for example. A major problem within the Valley is a lack of under-21 venues (music venues that have a 21+ age limit would be places like bars). This is an obstacle for the music community as the youth play a major role.
There are creative solutions to try and go around this. Talk to each other to try and start something. The music community could start basement shows for example. The “do-it-yourself” approach is this valley’s best friend right now.
Do not sit back, wish for something, and make plans that will never see the light of day. Get out there and start something. Wanting a sewing community? Ask around, find the people. Like-minded individuals often are not aware of each other until they meet through a gathering focused on the shared interest. I used this example with my sister: I’ve been a fan of the video game “Tekken” for years. Last year I went to a fighting game tournament at Washington State University. I was overwhelmed by the number of fellow “Tekken” players I met. All these people shared the same love as me, but I had no clue they even existed until we all congregated through an event dedicated to our interest.
This is the philosophy my sister and I think will save the Valley. Someone with mutual interests could be walking past me, and I would be oblivious. The way to fix this is to grow the community. Bring everyone out from hiding. Make more meetings between similar individuals possible. The only way to preserve the culture is to participate in the culture. Make these things happen. Grow communities, make friends and keep the passion alive. If there isn’t active effort, then this Valley will be a ghost-town. People do not have to leave this town angry. People do not have to burn out in this town. This process can be stopped.
The conversation between my sister and I had to reach an end eventually. We covered a lot of ground with this conversation. We felt good having that talk knowing the urgent state our Valley is in. Eventually my sister went back home to Los Angeles. I had to carry on my usual life here in the valley. Now I’m left with a question. Do I let that conversation be a nice memory or a personal mission statement? Now I must ask you the same question.