The Beginning of Transformative Change


The Beginning of Transformative Change Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

It starts with a desire, a hope.

One person’s vision for the future of a community may be just that, but with leadership and the right plan, funding, and political support, it can become a reality and transform a community.

Where is that desire, or hope born?

It could be proactive, or reactive. It could be because a large employer is leaving downtown – drastically decreasing activity in the central business district. It could be the employer left decades ago and the empty buildings have become an eyesore – calling for blight elimination. It could be that downtown has slowly changed, retailers have gone, service businesses and fewer traffic generators inhabit the area – there is a need for new energy.

Maybe the person with the vision is interested in creating a legacy – making a permanent mark on the community. Community transformation could come from an attempt to attract new families to the community, and create a dynamic, magnetic draw for existing residents – a community development effort.

Maybe the vision is born from a gift, a benefactor’s desire to leave a cultural mark for generations to come. It’s possible there is a need to replace the vestiges of a bygone era, replace functionally obsolete structures and uses with a modern gathering place. Whatever the driver, change is sought.

Seeking change and being committed to change are two entirely different things.

Commitment to change takes time, money and political capital. Transformative redevelopment takes time, money and political capital. We’ll address “time” here, but money and political capital may require a separate writing.

The time it takes to transform a business district, a block, a piece of property can be paralyzing to some, incomprehensible to others. Election cycles often come and go with projects still underway.

What may appear to the public as inaction could be a whole lot of important work taking place behind the scenes; lining up funding, negotiations, planning, research, due diligence, aligning partners. These are all things which take time but don’t directly change the landscape.

By the time a project is announced, economic development practitioners and municipal staff have put in countless hours and the announcement seems anticlimactic. Change also take time to accept.

It’s as if it’s a shirt that must be tried on. How does this feel?

What will happen in the wake of the proposed changes? Who will be positively and negatively impacted? What’s the long-term benefit of this change? What happens if we don’t implement this plan?

Time kills all deals.

In business there is a popular adage, “Time kills all deals”. In some respects, this also applies to transformative community change, but rushing certain aspects of the process can also be dangerous. If a business is pushing to come to the community, by all means, do everything possible to facilitate a speedy process. If the community is working through an acquisition and relocation project, keep moving forward but expect delays and hiccups along the way.

Temporary roadblocks come in all shapes and sizes, including egos, fear, the need for better communications, public opposition, misleading (untrue, viral) Facebook posts, and second guessing by those in leadership.

Press on. Someday, you will be able to turn around, look back and say, “Wow, we did that.”


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