I was joking yesterday with our Planning Director that no matter how dull he tries to be, development projects always seem to stir things up and raise the pulse and blood pressure in the community. Development is one of those lightening rods that can become a flashpoint dividing people into pro-change, anti-change camps, often irrespective of the project itself. It doesn’t have to be about the project — it’s what the project represents and how someone feels about change. Our job is to help manage the change process, honoring the past while ensuring hope for a better tomorrow. Making sure Kent is “like always…and like never before” at the same time.
Walking the change tightrope is tough, and it tests our skills at balancing a lot of legitimate, competing interests. It’s not so much that there are good or bad projects, the question is more about the fit of the project for the community.
The trouble is you have to buy the project before you get a chance to try it on, so the best you can do is guess at how well it will, or won’t, fit. And since you can’t return it, the stakes are high so the pressure’s on to make sure you guess right.
And therein lies the source of the problem — guessing at future impacts that you’re going to have to live with no matter what. When development projects are put in that context, it’s no wonder people resist change. It’s human nature to default to preferring to accept known problems, rather than change things and face uncertainty — even though uncertainty could bring improvements.
Throw in a little cynicism about the sincerity of a developer’s promise and you have a recipe for confrontation. Our goal as a city is to help defuse and depersonalize the process and offer yardmarkers in the field of play to begin to put a project in a perspective that everyone can understand.
We model traffic impacts. We calculate parking needs. We evaluate infrastructure using engineering standards. We have the developer submit drawings with plan sets to paint us a picture of their vision in way that is meaningful. We talk to neighbors and hold public meetings. We make recommendations as staff, but ultimately we have “average Joe” citizens (Planning Commission) make the final call as to whether projects are going to fit good or not — because this is their community and they should know best.
All these efforts are made to take out some of the guesswork, but in the end, it’s still forecasting and predicting — which when you consider how much money the National Weather Bureau spends to forecast weather you can appreciate the challenge of predicting human behavior related to new development.
So once again, the forces at work tend to favor status quo, not change. But to borrow from the laws of nature, healthy eco-systems have to continually adapt and change with changes in their environment — and so do cities. Cities are not closed systems, we are interconnected and inter-dependent on all parts of our city just like eco-system.
Our health as a city depends upon our capacity to change. Change doesn’t mean denying our past — it’s means honoring that past by ensuring tommorow will be better than today. Sure there’s risk involved in change, but there’s a bigger risk sitting still watching the tides erode away our shorelines day after day. The tides don’t stop or wait for anyone, so we need to muster the courage to do what needs to be done to preserve our shore.
I didn’t intend to rattle on about change in this post, all I wanted to do was to talk about how we’re working as a city to be more development oriented, to be more of a resource to both citizens and developers that are part of the process of transforming blighted neighborhoods or vacant business properties into vibrant economic centers.
To give you a flavor of how I want us as a city to be a better resource for developers, I’ve attached a copy of what I call my “Developer’s Speech.” We’re planning to invite all our developer’s in to meet with us in 2007 to introduce some of our newer staff, and more importantly to talk about our new attitude.
Welcome everyone this morning.
Appreciate the time you took to join us.
We’ll do our best to make it worth your time.
Lead off by reminding everyone that what we are involved in is bigger than just codes and ordinances
We are literally building the community
Community that is distinctive, important to people and businesses, worthy of a place to call home
That’s our charge, it depends on both of us to deliver our best every time out
Some new, some less new faces, but it is a new attitude
Partnership and Collaboration
Be good at it will take practice
Our success is a function of our ability to develop an effective working relationship
Get away from throwing a plan set over a wall and wait for us to throw it back over
Underutilize our talents and overburden your patience
Urge you to consider us another asset to contribute to your projects.
Use us to help you get off to a “great start”, call us, come and see us, meet with us on site
The best finishes all have great starts.
Investment horizon – long term success
Eliminate work redone, punch lists, mobilization costs
I’ve heard that the City can cost you money, but if that’s true then certainly the city can save you money.
Leverage our resources
Commit to quality – getting it right the first time
And we all win.