The malaise of America's urban communities is well documented, from economic and employment concerns to public health and environmental safety needs, and from the fear of crime to the quality of and access to educational opportunities. The chasm between rich and poor, and the rough road faced by disadvantaged individuals and communities is all too visible in almost any large American city. Except, of course, Seattle, where everyone likes each other a whole lot, and drinks so much dark-roasted coffee that they stay up nights thinking of ways to solve their few problems.
In most cases, far too little is being done to remedy the situation. Some communities have barely begun to assess the sources of their problems and the task is often overwhelming. Where something is being done, the activities being undertaken are often a disjointed series of uncoordinated, piecemeal measures by the limited number of parties who are committed to the effort.
Ideas / Solutions
Local governments seeking to revitalize their communities and ameliorate endemic problems should initiate a comprehensive, coordinated strategic planning process and action agenda in conformance with business principles. It should bring together all interested parties to unify participants toward shared objectives in a structured process that leaves past dissatisfactions and alienation behind. Unity would greatly increase the chances of initiating, and then maintaining, a business-oriented tactical process to achieve the results for which these communities have been yearning, complete with detailed action plans, accountability, and reporting. Such gains would have a positive impact that would benefit and carry over into other communities, as well, by the strength of successful examples.
The process must begin with a conference, or, in the parlance of the day, a "summit", involving all who have something to contribute and all who are committed to progress. It should include:
- leaders of business who could invest in the community, possibly by establishing new facilities and hiring residents,
- religious leaders who can reach out to the communities,
- representatives of community colleges, vocational education facilities, job training programs and other educational opportunities,
- neighborhood representatives who best know what the local population needs, wants, and is willing to do,
- representatives of government agencies whose programs could offer appropriate services,
- lenders who could facilitate economic investment,
- academicians who could offer insights and creative solutions,
- development consultants who could structure an integrated strategy,
- urban planners who could help build for long-term sustainability,
- public health and environmental experts versed in the means to enhance the quality of life of residents,
- public relations experts skilled in crafting a constructive and inviting image,
- high school and college students chosen by their peers to participate,
- local legislators, to help hurdle governmental barriers and implement the resulting plan, and
- any other participants who are committed to the success of the project.
The summit participants should first conduct a SWOT Analysis, identifying the community's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, focusing on an evaluation of their assets in terms of the demographics, status of youth development, societal successes in the community, workforce characteristics, educational infrastructure, community institutions, existing industry presence, access to governmental and foundation funding, etc. The group would also identify needs -- such as social services, job skills training, job creation channels, research and data, funding, planning coordination, and organizational leadership -- that it seeks to fill from key stakeholders. The summit participants should then develop strategies to satisfy the identified needs, and identify potential problems that could be solved through innovative partnerships. The group should also identify and recommend leaders, educators, companies, or institutions in the community that would be requested to join the effort.
Before leaving the room, each participant should be required to commit to undertake specific actions, or provide specific benefits, beyond that in which they have already been engaged. The “deliverable” from a summit of this type must be a blueprint for action, complete with the commitments made at the summit, the roles and responsibilities of each of the participants (and their organizations), a timetable for and sequence of actions, a strategy for expanding participation to other participants, and a mechanism for accountability in order to ensure results. While the accountability mechanism for elected officials is the next election, business and professional participants should go the extra step of including performance of their “summit” commitments into their job performance metrics.
A summit of this type can generate the vision, strategy, and tactics for progress in the community. It lays the groundwork for coordinated, collaborative progress. It must then be followed by monitoring by all parties, the local media, and governmental leaders for adherence to the commitments and the timetable. In so doing, it will avoid the pitfall of being just another discarded report, and can instead serve as the catalyst for rejuvenation and development of the community. If it is aided by community support and pressure for action, along with peer pressure from the expectations and encouragement of all parties, it will serve as the clarion call and blueprint for tangible transformation.