Follow Up Q & A on Economic Ecosystems & Resilience
In response to Economic Ecosystems & Resilience sections of The Local Economy Revolution:
Editor’s note: this and additional questions and comments about this section of Della’s The Local Economy Revolution, can be found on our Linkedin group page. You can still add your own comments or questions there.
Della, you write that “it’s a hell of a lot easier to define our economic development work, and to measure our achievements, if we cast our work in terms of “winning new businesses” instead of “facilitating the health of the local economy.” In the section on Resilience, you similarly note that: “Resilient isn’t flashy. Resilient often isn’t dinner-plate-sized blossoms, neon colors, explosive growth, front-page news.”
So … how can a community get out of this mindset? Is there anything you’ve found that planners, or planning commissioners, can do to change these attitudes?
First, an apology for the language in that quote: I very intentionally focused on writing the book in a style that is not stiff, not formal, not abstract. I wanted people to feel like they were reading dispatches from a real person, not a disembodied voice. But the person behind that voice doesn’t always speak Rated G, so some words slip in there every so often, Caveat Emptor, I suppose!
You know how hard it is to get yourself to change a bad habit? Get to the gym more often, stop biting your nails, skip the third cookie? What we’re talking about here is like that, but on the community scale. The two quotes you put together above contrast taking an approach that seems easy – “we’ll go out and recruit a big business, and that will Solve Everything” — with a mindset that says, there are no magic bullets, we need to work diligently at something that will have a more beneficial, but longer-term payoff. It’s like passing up the drive through Whopper that’s calling your name, and instead going home and making yourself a salad. You know you should, but it takes a level of willpower that we have to decide to summon. Again, if it’s hard for us to do that as people, it it any wonder it doesn’t just happen to us magically?
Communities that I have seen make this kind of transition each have their own story, but I think there’s some commonalities:
1) They put a lot of time and energy into educating the community about the challenges on the horizon. One town did a speaker’s series that lasted months, and that enabled them to move the community toward a deep understanding of how the world had changed around them, and that was central to building support for a massive zoning overhaul. Too often we are so embedded in the issues ourselves and too much in a hurry to make something happen that we don’t take the time and effort to bring everyone else along.
2) They didn’t just cry wolf, they put together persuasive data, but they did it in a way that was understandable – and connected that information to the impacts that they were concerned about. People do want to make rational decisions, but often we either overkill with data or we just try to appeal to emotions, If the data’s not easily understood and interpreted, people tend to default back to emotional (usually defensive) stances, and if we just go on emotion (the open, unbounded, “what do you want this place to be like in the future?”), then we lose our credibility and/or tick people off when the pipe dreams don’t happen.
3) The communities that make these kinds of transitions involve as much of a cross-section of the community as humanly possible — and they involve them in the meaningful work of evaluating options, setting priorities, and figuring out how to get it done. Too often we think that We The Experts have to do that work, and that the public’s role is to tell us their crazy ideas and then sit back and listen and applaud politely while we tell them what we really need to do. If the world ever really worked like that, it doesn’t now. We have to get much more serious about reasoning together. Deep change requires collaboration, not just a hearing.