28 February 2010

Importance of Leadership in “Disturbing the Vortex” and Relational Planning

Many urban areas seem to be “churning in the vortex” of chronic problems of underemployment, deindustrialization, and population decline. The lack of coordination between different levels of government, the business community, non-profit organizations and citizens are at the root of these problems. Long range plans can be developed, but are useless without a consensus among decision-makers. It would appear that what makes successful cities is a leader with a vision and who has the ability to form coalitions across many diverse groups. These ideas are founded on those of Patsy Healey (Emeritus Professor at the University of Newcastle (UK)) and Jaime Learner (urban planner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, and consultant). The notion is that successful changes in urban environment must “disturb the vortex” that is upset the present way of doing things in an urban area. Disturbing the vortex consists of seemingly “radical” actions that put an urban area on a new path. This may be such actions as: “urban farming”-turning vacant land into gardens or farms, retraining and entrepreneurial ventures to encourage post-industrial firms to relocate or to form such as those devoted to software developers, Internet commerce, high precision instrument manufacturing, green technology, and consulting; and encouraging public transit friendly development. A regional focus must be encouraged. However, key is one leader or a dedicated group that can forms a consensus and commitment for long term change. While this is a proven path for change, the obstacles preening them are substantial, particularly in a time of limited funding and a retreat attitude in urban areas. Yet once a coalition is made and changes start, they take on their own energy. The real problem is the initiation of these changes. This is also inherent in the concept of “fractal planning” as expressed in earlier blogs. Fractals are generated by the initiation of a set of “rules”. The complex formation of a fractal initiates from simple rules, one stating action and the iteration of the rules. In urban planning, this would be consist to the development of a working group, development of policy and the implementation of the policy. While physical land use plans are important tools, they are nothing without commuted leadership, guiding policy and implementation.

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