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The Local Economy Revolution

Helicopter Parenting

See the previous section of The Local Economy Revolution: Native Species

Today: are we "the experts" being helicopter-parents to our communities?

Every so often, my kids set up a lemonade stand on the street in front of my house. I encourage them to do it for all the usual good reasons- introduction to basic market economics, sense of achievement, etc. We live in a very safe neighborhood, but, you know, I’m Mom. I've had too many years of Stranger Danger training. I typically find myself watching them from the front window.

Last time, gross sales for the day totaled $8, and someone who thought they were cute paid them $3 for a 50 cent glass of lemonade. Needless to say, it wasn't a mile-a-minute action.

While I stood there, I realized that my conflict is a lot like the challenge that we who are responsible for local economies face.

While I stood there, I realized that my conflict is a lot like the challenge that we who are responsible for local economies face:

We want to directly control and influence what happens in our communities, but we know we can't. We can't because, at the end of the day, it's not our lemonade stand, even though we might have provided the raw materials and we might have even shaped the environment in which it operates. At the end of the day, we have to let the economy of our community happen.

We can guide, cajole, even land some well-placed pushes, but we cannot make it happen.

Can we shift instead to a model of facilitating growth, enabling opportunities, without trying to artificially force them to happen?

Sometimes we do try to make it happen -- we create incentives, we offset funding gaps, we permit one type of development and prohibit another for the sake of the public welfare. And a lot of the time, the immediate thing that we want to happen, happens.

If I had charged out to the curb and taken control of the lemonade sales, if I had made the kids bigger and fancier signs, or directed them to a more high-traffic location, I bet they would have sold a lot more than six glasses. And I wouldn't have had to worry about their safety.

Improved results when the Expert gets involved.

But when we do that, we risk a consequence -- and as we are learning more and more these days, we risk a long-term unintended consequence.

Illustration by Marc Hughes for PlannersWeb - Mom selling lemonadeIf I take over the kids' lemonade stand, they may sell more lemonade, and probably won't get grabbed by a stranger, but they won't learn the lessons from the experience that was the real point of the activity. And if I keep acting like that, and they never learn independence and how the market works, that could have some very serious impacts on their futures.

What about our communities?

Do we risk long-term unintended consequences because of our urge to try to control the places that we personally and professionally care about?

Can we shift instead to a model of facilitating growth, enabling opportunities, without trying to artificially force them to happen?

What do you think?

Coming Next: Sell Saturns, Not Clunkers