How a tour of empty buildings can open your eyes

Open Your EyesBuilding Possibility started as a book idea, and is gradually turning into one.  There are seven principles to building possibility and the first one is Open Your Eyes.  It’s first because as humans we tend to get caught up in the every day and forget to look around us and see what there is.

People that live in big cities don’t even notice the homeless people on the streets, they are just there everyday and are part of the day to day.  If you see someone in a small town homeless chances are you probably know them.  And you’ll probably stop and talk to them, or call someone and let them know they are there and need help.

It’s different with empty buildings.  In small towns, we see the empty buildings when they are first empty.  We think ‘what a shame that building is empty’ when it’s first empty.  But after awhile, we don’t even see it anymore.  We just drive by it on our way to work or to the grocery store or on our way to pick up the kids from the babysitter.  After awhile, there’s 4 or 5 empty buildings downtown and you don’t even notice it.  Or worse, you don’t even go downtown anymore, because there is no longer any reason to go downtown.

When I came to Webster City for a job interview, I counted 14 empty buildings in the downtown area.  You bet I noticed them.  I was interviewing for the Chamber Director position, and I was new to town.  My eyes were open.  I had a decision to make once I had the job.  I too could ignore the buildings, and hope that someone would open up a new business.

Or I could help the community once again see the empty buildings.

I chose to host a Tour of Empty Buildings and showcase these empty buildings for the entire town to see what was there.  We brought in the owners and realtors to show what was there, to talk about the square footage and the cost and to show the entire building.  We brought in the older folks to talk about what had been there before and to talk about the history of the building.  We asked everyone to come, by placing ads in the paper, by asking personally, by going to the coffee clubs, by putting up posters, by Facebook, by going on the radio.  We held the tour.

Then we continued to talk about it even after the tour was over.  We shared pictures and stories and when the buildings started filling up we shouted from the rooftops!  Almost three years later 10 of the 12 buildings that were on the tour are full.

We opened our eyes.  I am asking you to open your eyes in your small town.  How can you make a difference where you are? What other things are you not seeing?