Archive for the ‘right sizing communities’ Category

TRANSFORMATIONAL MUNICIPAL LEADERSHIP

April 1, 2014

Why some small & medium sized communities are successful with economic reinvention and others become ghost towns!

Richard G. Longworth in his book “Caught in the Middle – America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalization”,  lays the historic groundwork explaining why some communities become ghost towns – the failure to adjust to change…being transportation, communications or market force changes that reshape the local economy. Today similar changes such as a lack of direct interstate roadway or high-speed internet connectivity are reshaping future sustainability of many smaller communities, especially those not having connection to a metropolitan area. There is ample evidence that metropolitan regions are the collectors of population growth, increased household wealth, creative workforce talent and ultimately future prosperity. As the concentration of growth trends continue to accumulate in metropolitan areas, smaller communities, especially those lacking connectivity to metropolitan areas, will face economic sustainability challenges. While a large number of smaller communities will inevitability be unable, or unwilling, to make necessary political and civic changes leading to prosperity, others will “take-on” challenges to reinvent themselves for the future. Study of successful smaller communities, over the past 40-years has led me to identify ten key ingredients, which will separate ghost towns from successful small towns of the future:

 1. Transformational LeadershipDilbert leadership

Every successful community has one – they are “action figures” persons with the personality and leadership “karma” drawing together differing, and at times conflicting, pathways into a single direction – “they’re the lead dog in the sled team and pilot the direction for others to follow along.”

Successfully communities in the future will all have a leader, a single person who collects and draws together ideas, combines individualized personal commitments, plots-out a uniform action strategy and sets-in-place the deployment process to implement change.

 2. Long-term Consensus Strategy

In today real world agreement doesn’t exist anymore comments Aaron Anthony, Bridgman MI, City Manager, “it’s a generally held conclusion that 100% agreement is a figment of imagination and that we can get everyone on the same page when forming community strategy”. But successful community development is founded on the premise that we can set aside our differences and reach agreement upon certain principles that result in a strategy that all parties accept and will implement.

Successfully communities in the future will be guided by a generally recognized, and community accepted, long-term consensus strategy that in general terms, tells where the community wants to be in the future – a compass point showing direction rather than specific GPS instructions for the journey.

 3. Dedicated “Single-Focus” Management

Unlike 40-years back where community leaders had a limited number of issues to handle, today’s municipal community development function is far more complex, governed by a greater number of laws and regulations, influenced by a larger number special interest groups and susceptible to increased legal intervention. Constantine MI, City Manager, Mark Honeysett sums it up quickly, it’s easy to get to many things on the plate at the same time and get nothing accomplished.  The result is more time, more money and more complexity in carrying-out both the civic and governmental community development function”.

Successfully communities in the future will those communities who recognize and realize that a community cannot address every issue at the same time and direct both human and financial resources to a prioritized list of needed accomplishments.

 4. Long-term Funding Mechanisms

Transformation according to Bridgman MI, Manager, Aaron Anthony, “is not an “annual pay-as-you-go proposition, but a multi-year commitment of interconnected projects that required several years of funding to achieve best results.   Communities that recognize implementation does not comply with election cycles or annual budget cycles have a better chance for success”.  Modern municipal project management requires identification of all potential funding sources with their probability of funding success as part of the project planning process to help communities better define the overall project scope and anticipate costs in an effort to achieve greater implementation success.

Successfully communities in the future will recognize the value of multi-year project budgeting opposed to annually deciding what can spent and how to use the annual community budget.

 5. Leverage Funding Opportunities

Change is costly with most major “transformational” projects exceeding the annual tax revenue of most communities.  This results in reliance upon other funding sources. Federal and state grants are always viewed as the first supplemental source, but tax increases, tax increment financing, borrowings and even private donations all have place in leveraged funding opportunities.

Successful communities in the future will rely on realistic expectations of  grant and other funding sources and consider the ability to complete projects using only local funds.

 6. Experienced Technical Guidance

Local elected officials “don’t have to be smart – only popular enough to get elected” was told to me many years ago Cass County, MI Commissioner Johnnie Rodebush, “the best thing we can do is hire smart guys, like you, to help guide us in making things work.” It is uncommon occurrence that once elected, the elected official has comprehensive knowledge of the vast number of governmental programs available leading to  reliance upon technical help and services to assist in successful project implementation.

Today and even more in the future, successful communities will realize navigating the complex, ever-changing, municipal world, requires good advice and technical assistance from qualified and experienced help for success.

 7. Appetite for Civic & Political Risk

Supporting civic and governmental change implies taking risks – risk of criticism, risk of losing an election and possibly loss of community status and position in social and civic organizations.

Successful communities in the future will identify risk taking as an accepted part of a successful transformation process and celebrate rather than shy away from possible adverse effects of implementing change.

  8. Acceptably for System Changes Needed for Success

Government structure, especially in some Midwest states, was born in the late 1800’s and remains in place today.  However, the reliance on single government solution, guided by independent separatist elected bodies at times hinders the ability to solve problems which span multiple government jurisdictions such as potable water supply and sewerage collection/treatment, storm water management and transportation.

Successfully communities in the future will have relinquished some of today’s commonly held duties in favor of multi-jurisdictional delivery systems that may offer cost savings, provide superior services and more efficient management oversight.

 9. Unrelentless Pursuit of Success

Author Tom Peters, in his 1980’s book “In Search for Excellence” chronicled the theory of successful companies based on a total commitment and passion for excellence.  So too with community development, strategy a long-term passion for success always trumps stop-and-start attempts.

Successful communities in the future will not only subscribe to a passion for success but leverage this passion in pursuit of continual success.

  10. Civic Acceptance of Need for Success

Bob Gets, Village of Baroda MI, President, credits Baroda’s nationally recognized economic reinvention success to the community acceptance that “if we didn’t make a change we would become another Michigan ghost town” upon realization, in 2004,  that the loss of  over 10 tool & die shops with over 220 employees would never return. Most communities need a life-or-death realization to create the wanna-factor and wake-up a passive community mind-set that changes must happen.

Successfully communities in the future will have a civic “wanna-factor” for a successful future and economic sustainability – a spirit that is communicated and is easily recognizable outside of the community.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 Successful smaller communities need transformational leadership for success.

As Longworth states “like it or not, it’s the cities that are the economic engines of the 21st Century.  The small towns may be the spiritual anchors of the Midwest, but they no longer serve as the economic engine of the future.  Only those smaller communities that have the courage and political ability to reinvent themselves and integrate themselves in the new economy will prevent the ghost town from becoming reality”.

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THE BEST – LAID PLANS

December 10, 2012

How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocket Book and Your Future

Best Laid Plans

Government panning has become an accepted part of life in the United States.  Almost every city and county in the nation has a plan and employs planners to make studies and establish plans to better the future.  Most states require cities and counties to prepare plans, some being required to access much needed grant assistance to fund local projects.

Planning America CoverIn a recent study (spring 2012) Planning in America: Perceptions and Priorities     http://www.planning.org/policy/economicrecovery/ commissioned by the American Planning Association, the trade group for professional planners, 79%  of American’s like the idea of local community planning even if they are unclear about the goals that planning should serve”.

However, according planning critic Randall O’Tool author of the The Best Laid Plans, “a plan written with the best intention, will likely go horribly wrong”.

He claims that planners who “advertise their methods as the solution to almost any problem or controversy” allow elected officials to turn over thorny problems to the planning bureaucracy rather than force elected officials to make decisions.

He notes this planning decision process is run by “well-intentioned but often clueless people called planners, who, having graduated from architecture [and planning] schools and other universities are eager to bring their visions of utopia to the American people”.

O’Tool cites that it’s  a ”bitter irony, freely admitted by numerous planners, that many of the problems that planners propose to solve were caused not by the free marketplace, but by past generations of planners and other government bureaucrats”.

He basis his conclusion on two fundamental facts –

  1. That rational planning cannot occur in a highly politicalized environment, and
  2. The notion that competing groups can sit down together and negotiate the goals for all interest groups is unachievable.

While published in 2007, the validity of his statement surely is confirmed as demonstrated by Republican and Democratic Party actions during Presidential election and currently shown by congressional efforts to address the pending national fiscal problems.

O’Tool notes “planners tend to be attracted to fads over hard economic based analysis”.  Try TND, TOD, Smart Growth and today’s placed based community strategy, as examples.

He claims, planners unlike employees in the private sector, face no risk, allowing for planning to be done without the risk of failure.

This “no risk – no consequence” situation O’Tool suggests, allows planners to  “hide behind risk-free prepackaged concepts such as smart growth principles for their plans rather than doing detailed economic analysis that might or may not lead to success”.

The fundamental premise held by these planners is that “government can be blindly objective and even altruistic and create great plans, whereas private individuals and corporations working in their own self-interests cannot.  Only government can protect the common good”.

O’Tool’s opinions are obviously disputed by planners based on the results of their recent survey.

The recent (APA) survey disclosed that the American public recognizes the importance of government planning in economic prosperity with 92% of the respondents stating they believe “things work better with a plan and that community planning is important to the economic recovery” with local job creation ranked seventh in importance by over 70% of the responders.

Ironically, macro-economic theory is not typically emphasized as a critical component in planner education.  The educational framework of most planners is based on the notion that architectural design; the creation of a hospitable and livable physical environment, will dominate and shape people’s behavior.

O’Tool sees this dichotomy – the emphasis on physical environment shaping human behavior and providing the basis for job creation opposed to a free markets making the job creation decisions as the fallacy of government planning and reason that planning never will succeed.

So what are the planners to do?

Based on the notion jobs and economic development are to be higher priority for current community development strategy, planners need to gain a higher level of understanding of macro-economic influences that shape, or result from, community development plans.

Planners need to –

  1. Gain macro-economic education allowing assessment of potential impacts of optional community development strategies.
  1. Widen inputs into the comprehensive planning process to include greater consideration of government macro-economic policy upon future growth trends and the amount and timing of new development land needed to accommodate growth.
  1. Elevate the importance of municipal economic viability and sustainability into the overall framework of plan implementation, as professional standards of practice.
  1. Make mandatory the role of “concurrency” the notion that every capital expenditure must be confirmed by a funding source prior to inclusion into a comprehensive plan, thus eliminating speculative “build it and they will come” projects.
  1. Seek closure of the gap between the practice of economic development and comprehensive planning, recognizing that economic sustainability is only achieved when both disciplines act together to implement the comprehensive plan.
  1. Make real estate development economics a mandatory requirements of planner education giving planners a better understanding of private sector risk and reward principles for the creation of real estate taxable valuation which is the basis of local property taxes that derive revenue for local government operations.
  1. Create new unique public-private partnerships infrastructure models in recognition that traditional forms of developer “exactions” specifically the donation of public infrastructure will become a remembrance and local governments will be called upon to provide infrastructure when un-fundable by the developer’s lender.
  1. Create understandable and communicable matrices to quantify and measure success of plan implementation stressing short-term tangible results specifically new job and real estate investment creation.
  1. Establish accountability performance requirements for plan implementation which hold planners , as well as elected and appointed office responsible for plan implementation.
  1. Planners must also abandon the fundamental principle that community development and economic development programs must resolve multiple problems in order to be politically acceptable and fundable by local government officials. Planners must be able to “turn their back on certain problems which maybe a political impossibility under many current community and economic development strategies.

While O’Tool claims, “planners tend to be attracted to fads over hard economic based analysis”, there is evidence that a new fad – the recognition of macro-economic inputs into the shape, direction and viability of comprehensive planning may set direction for a stronger physical, social and environmental important strategy.

Reimaging Detroit – Opportunities for Redefining an American City

November 11, 2012

Back in the early 1970’s, my first planner job was to count the number of roof-tops shown on aerial photos for traffic zones for a small metro area’s first computerized transportation model.

The model was designed to provide a “base line” for origin and destination auto trip and inter-metro entry/exit commuting data.

This data, with our projection of where, when and the type of future development, would indicate the roadway improvements to correct existing deficiencies.

The transportation analysis would also show where future improvements were needed based on our projected pattern of future growth.

Good stuff!

We built the 25-year metro future land use plan and scheduled the timing and location of major transportation improvements.

Today, other than for a few road capacity and safety improvements none of the grand plans have been completed and the few where started, are not fully completed.

Population growth didn’t happen like local government interests projected.

John Gallagher, in his book Reimaging Detroit – Opportunities for Redefining an American City, chronicles this phenomenon.

This book should be required reading in every planning and economic development educational curriculum.

John sets the stage, not only for stagnate and declining metro growth strategy, but really calls out the pro-growth biased planning education taught to the planning profession.

This pro-growth bias is based on the notion that global and national growth will be distributed, somewhat equally, based on historical trends and propel current population counts upward over time.

This bias means planners must always expand the urban and suburban pattern of development to include land for new commercial, industrial and residential development.

But in many cases, the continuous upward population growth mentality isn’t correct for some metro areas, as John profiles Detroit where the pattern of development will shrink both in size and population count.

This is a must read for anyone interested in American city planning and metropolitan growth.

John Gallagher, a Detroit Free Press real estate journalist does a complete job of chronicling opportunities for remaking of depopulated cities; Detroit being his proving ground.

John asks the tough questions including –

1.  How do cities deal with infrastructure sized for 2 million folks being funded by user fees from ½ the users

2.  How does government provide services to a scattered less dense pattern of physical development.

3.  What do cities do with abandoned no longer needed – formally used but now vacant – land scattered among the depopulated urban pattern of development.

4.  What is the role of regional government cooperation in capacity building that results in new models of government service delivery based more on economic inefficiencies rather than political identity and governmental self aggrandizement?

5.  Is there a need for a new planning mantra, one that encourages economic sustainability by reduction in size and possibly abandonment of infrastructures no longer needed and affordable?

6.  Will there be community planning mindset change recognizing land reuse – a replacement philosophy that encourages rethinking of local government and urban boundaries with the new realities of demographic and population densities.

7.  Will the citizenry recognize the inevitable – that certain cities must adjust their land uses, abandoning no longer demanded or needed uses by current and future population but at the same time offering opportunity for increased open space and reclamation of lost natural amenities – wetlands, forest, agriculture, etc.

8.  How do cities change the populist fallacy that community cheerleading and platitudes cannot change the economic realities of economic dislocation due to lack of jobs and population growth.

9.  The importance of job growth, both the number and local proximity being vital to sustainability of a city……”jobs, like people die-off” and must be replaced by a new generation.  Failure to create jobs, at least at rates necessary to meet replacement quotas will ultimately result in stagnation and in some isolated cases death of the city.

10.  How to create community based economic entrepreneurship and new business formation programs coupling them with existing business inubators and accelerator efforts to ignite the entrepreneurial spirits within the metro area to make significant impact on the availability of jobs and increase personal wealth.

As John “points out” there is no simple one-way story of when the decline in America’s industrial Midwest began. The curse is here today for many Midwest urban areas, especially those somewhat smaller ones disconnected and isolated from the major metro centers.

He also states that today “it isn’t wise or practical to look at growth as our only definition of urban success….smaller can mean better”.

He emphasizes that both government and business leadership must capitalize on assets “in place” rethinking that growth solves all problems.  He advocates applying a new urban planning theory of “right-sizing” as part of the solution to reengineer prosperity.

To make such changes will not be easy. John quotes the Mayor of Turin Italy, who notes “the deeper the crisis the bigger the chance to do change and innovate.

The curse of many metro’s growth and prosperity surely indicates change and innovation will happen.