During the past thirteen years, my policy for this column has been to focus on just positive, informative, fun, and (hopefully) entertaining news during the holiday season. This year, however, things in the news have been so contentious that I've decided invoke my policy a week early. “Bah humbug” to bad news for the next seven weeks. 


It seems early to begin the holidays, but my fridge is already stocked with libations with names like Christmas Ale, Winter Lager, Pray For Snow Ale, and Old Fezziwig. Cheesy Christmas movies are on television all day on two Hallmark channels. We have Oreo-flavored candy canes waiting to be hung on our tree. And, if you venture out shopping, you'll see Christmas displays in the stores and hear carols playing in the background. 


So, let's get started with the good stuff. Usually, I litter my columns with numerous pieces of research and their associated web addresses. This time, though, I was so taken with just one article that it deserves our singular focus. 


Everyone wants their town to be the best that it can be. I came upon a website  called “Curbed.” Its stated aim is simple: “Our mission at Curbed is to advocate for the places where people live, by celebrating, chronicling, and explaining everything you need to know about homes, neighborhoods, and cities.”


The article that grabbed my attention was titled: “101 small ways you can improve your city – The least you can do to make a big difference where you live.” What I thought was interesting was the number of items on the list that individual citizens could accomplish that required no money whatsoever. 


For example, fix up your porch. Something as small as a few plants or a decorative piece of art next to the front door can make a house look brighter and friendlier. Now multiply that for several houses in a row and the entire neighborhood looks more inviting.  


A project along this line could involve your children – make faces. Craft pairs of eyeballs out of styrofoam and place them on inanimate objects, like trash cans. Nothing generates a chuckle for passersby like a goofy recycling bin. 


Curbed also recommends to get to know your neighbors. They note: “A neighborhood feels pretty special when we know we're all looking out for each other." 


Related to this is a suggestion. Talk to someone for 10 minutes. This “direct engagement” is “crowdsourcing at its finest.” You might come up with ideas to make the city better. 


Those ideas could be more valuable than you think. When it comes to public meetings, Curbed encourages you to “just show up.” Most public development meetings are “dominated by people who have a vested interest in the project. When a citizen shows up without a fish to fry, and expresses an opinion for the good of all, it’s a breath of fresh air."


Community involvement is great, but ensuring the business health of a town is critical too. Curbed advises to “shop local.” They add: “It’s simple, straightforward, and an easy addition to your routine that supports local businesses, provides community jobs, and reduces transportation costs and carbon emissions.”


Since much of Cadillac's business relates to the tourism industry, one Curbed item is good advice for our city's populace. “Become a tour guide for your neighborhood.” (I'd add for the whole city.) Familiarize yourself with the “hidden gems in your neighborhood” or “discover a unique experience nearby.” You can be a resource when you interact with tourists. 


Finally, something that does not cost a penny. Smile, particularly at strangers.  “It instantly makes the world a better place.” 

All of these items on the Curbed list would make Cadillac a better place in which to live and a more enticing destination for tourists to visit.


Doing any or all would be a great way to begin the holiday season. For the entire Curbed list of 101 improvements, go to: https://www.curbed.com/2016/9/22/13019420/urban-design-community-building-placemaking


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews