In response to the Gorrilla Ecologies section 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.


Wayne Senville:

Della, a couple of questions. I was intrigued by your discussion how our communities have gone from being led by a small number of "800 pound gorillas" to by many, much smaller "gorillas."

You note that one of the key challenges communities are facing is that they don’t know how to "harness" these smaller gorillas together, and then mention one community where the city council set up a committee "… consisting of electeds, staff administrators and key members of the community. Their job? Literally, hold the feet of the City and other agencies to the fire of doing the work that the community set out for itself through the plan."

How well did has this worked out? Were planners and planning commissioners involved? And just how did they use the planning process as a mechanism for this?

Della Rucker:

When this works, it works for two reasons: first, the process has to be built into the community's long range planning process from the start. Communities that do this well are explicitly working from a list of prioritized tasks or objectives, and those tasks are clearly tied back to long-range plan elements that have demonstrated and documented community support.

Second, the people who are doing the evaluation have to be explicitly charged with that responsibility, and there needs to be a mechanism set up within the process to define who is responsible for that evaluation and how the other parts of the local government will respond to it.

That requires two things that fall a little outside the usual process. First, the long range plan has to have a serious implementation element built in. It can't just "encourage" something to happen, or say that some unnamed someone should do this or that. It has to lay out timing, responsible parties, etc. The plan has to become a coordinating document, not just a map of some desired future land use and roads. I usually use a matrix -- a big table, really -- to lay this out, and it makes it easier for the people evaluating to keep track of things down the road

Second, there has to be a strong level of broad buy-in, and the groundwork has to be laid long before the first draft plan text comes out. If it's just the planning commission or whoever trying to tell everyone else what to do, that doesn't work, either.

The big common factor underlying all of this is community leadership. As I say somewhere else in the book, we fail to evaluate how we're doing things for a lot of reasons, but sometimes one of them is that it's a whole lot easier to not ask questions about how and why we are doing. But that's really the "harness" part of that tortured gorilla analogy. If we want to leverage the resources we have available today, we have to use our planning tools to set up the structure that allows us to all pull together.

The shift from a few big impact players to a diverse set of smaller ones is showing up all across our communities, from leadership to economics. If people are interested in a different version of the 50-lb gorilla problem – one having to do with getting real estate deals done – they might want to check out this item from the Good Ideas File: http://wp.me/p3SamA-b3. There’s also an interesting one that outlines the shift to 50-lb gorillas in manufacturing and design here: http://wp.me/p3SamA-aJ