By Kiki Hooton
Americorps VISTA

I was born and raised in North Carolina, where the tea is sweet and so are the girls (trust the music, man), the beach and mountains are within our reach, and we have to fight hard to keep our friendships during college basketball season. Despite the crazy stuff you may read about North Carolina in the news lately, we Carolinians (or should I say Cackalakians) are super proud of where we are from. So when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona for graduate school to study sustainability I was surprised to find…the complete opposite.

When you meet someone in Phoenix and ask them how long they’ve lived there usually the first response you get is an excuse. Even those who were born and raised in Phoenix shy away from making it a known fact, quickly mumbling their birthplace and changing the subject. I couldn’t understand why this was because I loved my experience in Arizona. At the same time, I was attending Arizona State University, one of the largest schools in the country, and I noticed that it acted like a commuter school. Everyone came to campus, went to class, and got home as soon as possible. It was that feeling of being alone in a crowded room. I became obsessed with the idea of sense of place, and how you get someone to own and feel proud of where they live. I felt like maybe I was the only one noticing these things because of my strong southern roots.

Then I went to see a talk by Kimber Lanning, the founder of Local First AZ. She said she was standing in line one day, chatting with a woman who, after learning about Local First, told Kimber “you really need to fix those education problems in Phoenix.”

When Kimber asked her if she was new to the area she said no, she had lived in Phoenix for 20 years. She lived there for 20 years and did not see the problems in her community as her own problems! That’s when a lightbulb went off in my head that sense of place was a huge factor in getting people to care about social, environmental, and economic issues, the sustainability problems I was studying to fix in the world.

Kimber went on to tell that she asked the woman where she called home and she proudly responded Chicago. If you’ve ever met anyone from Chicago then you know they can’t shut up about the place, although I can’t say I blame them. Kimber asked her to explain why Chicago is so great that 20 years later she still called it home.

The woman thought for a minute and said “Well, in Chicago I knew my hairdresser for 15 years. When I went to my favorite bar down the street I knew the bartender by first name. And at the restaurant around the corner they knew my favorite order by heart.” The woman went on to list local business, after local business, after local business. The unique experiences that she got from them gave her sense of place. It made Chicago her home.

Not only are those unique experiences so attractive to people that it is what gets someone to call a place home, it also gets people to travel all over the world to experience it.  When you think about the reasons why someone would travel across the country to experience Durango, you probably aren’t thinking about our Taco Bell (unless it has the like, THE BEST cheesy gordita crunch in the country or something, in that case let me know). 

Phoenix forgot this, and when areas of small businesses began to thrive enough to attract people, the city let huge chains move in and kick them out. They were left with rows of chain store after chain store, destroying the local character and any reason for people to travel farther than the row of chain stores in their own town. I’m not saying this was a conscious decision by anyone in the city, but most likely a lack of consciousness to it at all.

This is what the Local First movement strives to be. More than just a “shop local” campaign, we hope to be the conscious voice of our local, independent businesses to stand up for our community. Durango is growing, and while it has historically held on to its character, it is on the cusp of major change. Do we decide to put in a Target? Do we get that Trader Joes? What jobs are lost, what businesses will close, what tourists will stop coming because of this? These decisions will shape the future of our town, our home. We can continue to grow in a sustainable way if we have clear intentions in mind.

Needless to say, after that talk I became a Localist groupie and immediately applied for the Local First job when I saw it open.

While I am new to Durango, I am not new to the Local First movement. I hope you will continue to follow my journey at Local First in this blog, and help me identify and take on the challenges that Durango faces.  Oh, and if you want to show me your favorite local spots, that would be cool too : )


Did I miss the mark? Hit the nail on the head? When you think about Durango and the reasons you are proud to call it home, what do you think of?  Leave a comment and let me know!