Ten Questions for Starting Out, Starting Fresh, of Going Comprehensive
Do you have a proactive neighborhood agenda?
Start where you are. Build on what you have. Structure your roles, goals, tools, rules, strategic alliances, and resources in partnership with the community so it can truly address resident priorities.
Are you engaging residents for your agenda or supporting engaged citizens on theirs?
Who decides matters. Help residents become the primary players in change in their own communities. Serve and support. When residents are at the center of change, a platform is built, not just for people to get jobs, but for people to become the leaders of change.
Are residents at the center of planning?
Don’t think that neighborhood revitalization is just about land use. Unless you just want to build buildings and not communities, sustaining capacity comes from people participating in change.
Is the work connected?
You can’t address poverty without jobs, jobs without business, business without physical space, and space without political will. Economic development without resident voice can result in bad land planning; commercial development without community wealth-building bleeds value from the neighborhood; community organizing not linked to physical and cultural development is a missed opportunity for community identity and place-making.
Are all decisions being made at the “intersection”?
Work naturally silos. It’s easier to manage and implement, but doesn’t yield the transformative results you seek. Planning and decision-making structures need to rest at the intersection of civic, social, cultural, economic and physical development -- in balance.
Have you carefully evaluated how to manage the pace and speed of change?
Large-scale citizen participation actually accelerates progress. To go fast, go slow up front to assure that people are fully engaged. Then expedite the tools, zones, permits, and policy changes that address disinvestment.
Are you keeping it simple?
Demystify and simplify the tools, techniques, and processes needed to create change. Complexity is disempowering. A challenging bureaucratic process makes people think they are in a dog fight or discourages them from trying. When people have the opportunity to learn, they are good problem-solvers and decision-makers.
Has change started with you?
You are part of the ecosystem. You can’t spark a can-do spirit with a can’t do list of ways you can be involved. Look at your own assumptions, systems, guidelines, and processes first, then redesign them to support change on the ground.
Are you set up to inspire innovation?
Innovation doesn’t come from books, budgets, or prescribed action. It is built on the flexibility and freedom to create, test, learn, and then redesign. It occurs when people are given time and permission to bring their insight and instinct to bear and try multiple ways to achieve the desired result. It is about harnessing opportunity, being honest about what’s working and not working, and having the courage and backing to overcome critics, apathy and dissent.
Do you expect the change you make today to be here tomorrow?
Communities are organic. They are impacted by regional and national economic forces, immigration and migration patterns, changing political agendas, and the local realities of peoples’ lives. To be sustaining, community change strategies must be fluid, flexible, and focused on the capacity for large-scale civic action. Platforms must be built that allow residents to mobilize, unleash their creativity, harness market conditions, and address issues of common concern. This requires looking beyond static goals, having faith in people finding their way, and supporting the capacity to ignite action, evolve, and change as necessary to improve their own lives.