Well, at least kind of shiny: Brilliant Economic Development panel at IEDC Leadership

About a month ago I sat on a panel with a collection of leading economic development people from all over the country as Anatalio Ubalde, CEO of GISPlanning, threw hard questions at us in front of an audience of our peers.  This little pressure cooker happened at the IEDC Leadership Conference in Irvine, California.  And it was one of those situations where you walk into it worrying about how you’re going to come off, but you walk out of it realizing how privileged you were to get to hear and talk to the amazing people sitting beside you.

IEDC’s publication, ED Now, did a brief write up on the session (and knowing GISPlanning and their fondness for videotaping, I’m sure footage will emerge eventually).  One of the neatest things about the conversation was that we were able to take on the reframing of economic development work — as a key contributor to a community’s resilience and strength, part of the mix with urban planning and housing and all of the other elements of community management that we have too long treated as Someone Else’s Job.

What I myself said on that topic apparently resonated, and not just inside my head, because that’s what Louise Story of IEDC picked up on in her article.  This was off-the-cuff, but it draws on one of the core messages of the book — rethinking the importance of community resilience, the fact that a community’s own strength is its own most important economic development asset, and the fact that we can’t work in silos anymore:

Building resiliency and community

Echoing a broader conversation currently taking place, the first audience question for the panel was about the growth in income inequality. Della Rucker, principal of the Wise Economy Workshop in Cincinnati, pointed to practical reasons why economic developers should focus on this issue.

“More and more, our viability as an economy depends on our viability as a community,” said Rucker. “Economic development cannot exist in a silo, planning cannot exist in a silo. It’s really all about making communities as functional, as vibrant, as resilient as possible. Addressing disparities of all types becomes an essential element of that, even if just from a self-interest standpoint.”

Thanks again to Anatalio for his ongoing kindness to me and the Wise Economy work, to GISPlanning and IEDC for being willing to push this conversation forward, and to the other amazing people who sat on the panel for enlightening and energizing me.

From the Good Ideas file: Networked communities handle disasters better

“Resilience” is a new and hot concept in planning and urbanism — a term I didn’t think would take off like that when I first wrote the section in the book about scrawny little February crocuses in Cleveland.

Part of the growing interest in resilient places comes from our experiences of natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy in the northeast US.  But one of the pieces of resilience that we often overlook is this: we can’t build resilience for people.  We have to help them build it for themselves.  That’s why the concept of local economy as an ecosystem became so central to the book and to my thinking — we cannot impose resilience top-down, and we can’t hope to control all the pieces like we’d control a machine.  We can help the people involved connect to and build networks with each other.  But it’s facilitating work, encouraging work, somewhat hands-off work.  And it’s messy, imperfect, forward-and-back, stop-and start work.  Which makes it hard to sell to the elected officials and bosses who want to see Measurable Results.

But frankly, our Measurable Results work hasn’t actually been generating those result.  It’s been snowing us.  And while that happens, our communities and economies become less resilient.

I’m not completely in love with this essay from Meeting of the Minds–  I’d have personally preferred a little less rhetoric and a few more examples — but you might find it useful in dealing with people who think that trying to enable meaningful public engagement isn’t worth the time and effort.  And there’s two good references in the last paragraph.

I’d actually argue that building community resilience is probably more cost-effective  — and more likely to work — than relying on governments and institutions to take care of everything in the event of a crisis.

Here’s a couple of insightful quotes from the article, written by Blair Ruble of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Program on Global Sustainability and Resilience.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, a plentiful number of urban professionals around the world – including economists, planners, architects, and administrators of all types – have dismissed citizen participation as an extravagant expense that only gets in the way of efficient urban management. They reveal a steady re-entrenchment of top-down approaches to shaping the city in which professionals know best. Involving citizens, it seems, just costs too much.

Ironically, the lessons in recent years that have emerged from post-disaster experiences point in precisely the opposite direction. From Hurricane Katrina to Super Storm Sandy and all variety of man-made and natural disasters across the globe, we have seen integrated communities with high social capital and identity recover more quickly and more efficiently than those which are bedeviled by high levels of social anomie and isolation. [emphasis mine]

How can we explain this division between empirical lessons learned on the ground and the view from the commanding heights of professionalism?

…traditional urban “think tanks” need a new approach to their work. Specialized knowledge and expertise play an important role to be sure; but there is simultaneously a need to make that knowledge and expertise widely available. Communities must organize themselves if they are to be resilient in the face of unprecedented challenges for cities which certainly lie ahead as our planet changes.

Fortunately, models exist for converting traditionally hierarchical academic, professional, and municipal institutions into urban laboratories embedded in broad networks of public officials, business executives, entrepreneurs, civic leaders and citizens. The University of Toronto’s Global Cities Indicator project, for example, mobilizes the considerable expertise necessary to collect and analyze big data about cities around the world while making such data available and transparent to broader communities. Similarly, Brooklyn’s new Center for Urban Science + Progress seeks to promote “a new kind of academic center that functions in collaboration with the city itself.”