Many of our local economies are not healthy. Our news is full of closing stores and vacant big boxes, plummeting housing values, and holes in government budgets. If you’re on a planning commission, try going to a party at your neighbors’ house. Sooner or later you’ll get asked: “What are you guys doing to fix it?”
We know we aren’t responsible for all these events. But the question nags: “What are you guys doing to fix it?”
If we take our responsibilities seriously, then perhaps we can help fix it. To do that, we need to think ahead, anticipate consequences, and identify our blind spots so that we aren’t sideswiped by a future we didn’t see coming. To make wise decisions, we need to plan wisely. But what does that mean?
• Goals that mean what they say. We don’t need the mealy-mouthed stuff we often get for goals. We need goals that our community understands, rallies around, and works toward. If a goal does not make people want to act, that goal is useless.
The word “encourage” should not appear in a plan’s goals or objectives, unless there is a very solid reason for doing so. If I encourage my son to study for a test, “encouraging” him is not the goal. “Pass the test” is the goal. Inserting the word “encourage” in a plan is almost always a cop out, which is why officials sometimes like it for goals they don’t want to support. If you cannot get support beyond “encourage,” then define what the parties involved can support, or cut the goal out.
• Don’t assume that the future will be a direct extension of the past. How many population projections have you seen? How many decisions do we base on those numbers? How often do those numbers turn out to be right? We too often plan the way we do because that’s what a projection indicates. We need to stop treating a projection as a fait accompli.
What matters isn’t the numbers, but what they tell us about the issues we face, and how we influence or adapt to those changes.
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Della Rucker, AICP, CEcD, is the Principal of Wise Economy Workshop, a consulting firm that assists local governments and nonprofit organizations with the information and processes for making wise planning and economic development decisions.
Rucker is also Managing Editor of EngagingCities and author of the recent book The Local Economy Revolution: What’s Changed and How You Can Help — portions of which will be serialized here on PlannersWeb.com during 2014.