Noah’s Town: Where Animals Reign, by Maury Forman Reviewed by Terry Lawhead
These disasters are not only setting records and occurring more frequently but they are also becoming costlier to clean up. Natural disasters cost the world $160 billion in 2018. One result is that the physical and mental well-being of communities and individuals are being affected causing stress, sadness, anxiety, or depression.
“11 Straight Days of Tornadoes Have U.S. Approaching ‘Uncharted Territory.”
“Overflowing rivers in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia have flooded dozens of homes and roads”.
“The Pohang earthquake in South Korea has become the country's strongest earthquake in modern history”.
“The Mississippi River flooding that has been ongoing for three months has become the longest-lasting flood there since the Great Flood of 1927”.
But despite these destructive forces of nature, there is hope of survival and a resurgence for a well-being community. Noah’s Town: Where Animals Reign, by Maury Forman is an engaging, funny, timely and teachable fable of disaster preparation and recovery. It tells the story of how the descendants of the animals that were saved from extinction in Biblical times in Noah’s Ark have integrated themselves in society and have formed a sustainable and growing community. When a twenty-first century unexpected disaster strikes, putting residents and visitors in harm’s way, the community must find a way to survive locally, rather than flee, putting their new disaster plan to the test.
Author Maury Forman has written 17 books about the profession of economic development and he pulls from his long and successful 26 year career of creating healthy communities in Washington State by introducing them to economic gardening, entrepreneurship, mentoring, and access to capital to create a clever fable where a town is governed and sustained by animals. His use of humor and puns to educate are legendary in his presentations at community meetings, state association gatherings, and International Economic Development Association conferences and have earned him awards and national recognition. As the founder and former director of the Northwest Economic Development Course at Central Washington University, he does not fail in keeping practitioners and community leaders entertained and educated in matters of economic development.
Noah’s Town is immediately recognizable to anyone aware of what small towns facing the challenges of economic growth are going through. Noah’s Town has some real, strong assets, smart business owners, pretty good town officials (if a bit neglectful in their duties) and, of course, an Ark as a draw for visitors and the lifeblood of its tourism economy. Things go pretty well year after year and hard-working residents assume it will continue in that manner.
But it starts raining. Vern, the public works official and a beaver, is a worrier regarding the Noah’s Town infrastructure. Charlie, a chicken, is tasked with growing entrepreneurs in the town’s incubator, and takes the long view: “Communities are like startups. Things can go from good to bad to worse quickly.” Neither of them believes that there is such a thing as a “once in a lifetime” storm. They are confident that they would feel a disaster coming long before it takes place and Noah’s Town should prepare for it. To them the time is now.
A newly appointed economic development person, the town’s first, Maya, a donkey—finds chaos throughout the departments of the town. No one knows what an economic developer does so she does some asset mapping, one-on-one interviews, and training for E-commerce for shopkeepers. But the rain concerns. Forman clearly believes that economic developers should be the champions of promoting disaster planning for business as part of a community strategy.
It keeps raining. Almost all of the characters are dismissive of the change in the weather. Some even mock Maya as the modern day chicken little as she begins to hint at the inevitable storm they should be prepared for. This is an excellent illustration of what is called confirmation bias: What doesn’t fit well within one’s mindset can be simply ruled out. It’s only human. Or, in this case, animal. It stymies effective decision making to deal with disruptive change.
If you are an economic developer, community leader or an elected official, you may believe that the worst thing that can happen to your community is that a primary employer relocates or goes bankrupt, resulting in numerous layoffs. The case that Forman makes is that the worst thing that can happen is that a community is unwilling and unprepared to recognize the possibility of an inevitable natural disaster.
Many of these events cannot be predicted or prevented. Noah’s Town highlights that the only control we have is to create a “rainy day” plan that includes a toolkit of technical assistance, education and training, and access to capital that can be mobilized at the appropriate time. The author, being on a mission to ensure readers can find the “rainy day” tools they need to be prepared and recover, has identified numerous community resources, roles and checklists in his epilogue and appendix.
Noah’s Town makes one more point to help communities recover from disasters. When disaster strikes, those affected are encouraged to seek help from distant providers—federal and state agencies, the military--rather than turn to fellow community leaders and members. This story shows how it is only by working together as a town that residents can create a well-being community.
What is a well-being community? It’s a community that strives to find positive outcomes for everybody; it’s physical and psychological wellness that can deal with impending trauma and post-trauma; it’s an emergent resilience that isn’t merely transactional but transformative.
Forman takes a serious subject of disaster preparation and recovery and hopes to make you laugh, provoke discussion and encourage action. He concludes his fable with a warning: “When disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed”.