“Companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.” This quote is from Building Your Company’s Vision, by Collins and Porras, published in Harvard Business Review a few years ago. Let’s swap the word ‘community’ for ‘company’ and apply this to the ongoing work of community development.
“Communities that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed with their development strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.” That seems to fit! But, easier said than done when communities have election cycles and ever-changing leadership.
Vision in your community
Collins and Porras concluded a well-conceived vision has two major components: core ideology and envisioned future. The core ideology defines what a community (company) stands for and why it exists. The envisioned future is what it aspires to become, to achieve, to create. This will require significant change and progress to attain.
It may be difficult to apply a core ideology to an entire community, but it’s possible. A culture can exist within the municipal framework which embraces investment, progress, caretaking – or reaction, maintenance, shortsightedness and general apathy. We have worked with both kinds of communities.
An envisioned future has big goals (Collins and Porras use Big Hairy Audacious Goals – BHAGs) in 10 to 30-year timeframes. Vivid descriptions are used so goals can be visualized by stakeholders contributing to their achievement.
Crafting the vision is difficult but not impossible with dedicated leadership, solid elected officials and volunteer board members. Seating the right people on a Redevelopment Authority, for example can mean the difference between realizing a vision for transformative downtown revitalization and several more years of the same story.
If a community invests in a downtown redevelopment plan, or revitalization strategy, and it doesn’t have the leadership and staffing structure to carry through with the bold vision, it will go nowhere. If the vision will not be realized, then the plan will end up collecting dust on the shelf with so many other unrealized plans.
We’ve often said that economic and community development/redevelopment take TIME, MONEY and POLITICAL CAPITAL (leadership). Elected officials expend political capital by defending their vote from the City Council meeting the night before at the local diner the next morning.
Realizing Community Vision
We witness leadership committed to transformative change as well as leadership willing to continue the status quo. Enacting transformative change is a community is difficult, often creating controversy, angry Facebook rants, negative public comments and shaming letters to the editor. But those who enact it successfully keep the envisioned future in the forefront every step of the way. It’s because they understand the hard work (time, money and political capital) it takes to make lasting, positive change.
Watertown, WI is transforming itself
The Watertown Redevelopment Authority is demonstrating its commitment to transformative change now in the City of Watertown, WI. The City Council created and adopted a downtown/riverfront revitalization plan over four years ago. Redevelopment Resources recommended small, impact-level and transformative changes in the downtown and along the Rock River. Mayor John David understood the right organization would have to be in place to ensure the transformative changes were implemented. He appointed a stellar Redevelopment Authority and tasked them with implementing the BHAGs outlined in the plan.
The newly formed RDA took some flack for moving forward with the plan to acquire and demolish six buildings on a block in the historically significant Mainstreet District in order to create a Town Square and attract high-impact development along the river. The buildings were acquired over a 12-month period. Tenants are in the process of relocating. The envisioned future for downtown Watertown is flexible and open to change. And this group of dedicated leaders is going to see this project through and keep right on moving.
We created the downtown/riverfront revitalization plan in Watertown. We are happy to report we have been involved in the implementation of the plan for the past four years. As the downtown continues to undergo an amazing transformation, stay tuned for updates. An MOU is about to be signed with a developer for phase 1 of some significant development.