This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Strong Towns: The making of Place as Economic and Social Engine

Addressing issues of economic growth by a community for the benefit of all members of that community through equitable community budgeting must take in consideration one additional factor and that is financial sustainability.  This can take two different approaches, one which can be defined as a relatively more top down urban planning approach, as opposed to what is defined here as a more bottom up community planning approach.

These terms are often used interchangeably but I want to emphasize the community in community planning to a far greater degree than the more professionally oriented sense that urban planning conveys.  Professional involvement is essential regardless of the approach taken but community planning aligns with the concept of new community paradigms.

Budgets, I asserted in the last post are not a function of communities, they are a function of institutions such as City Hall. It is important for the community to understand the budget but the budget is the map not the territory. It is more imperative to recognize the importance of Place as Economic and Social Engine (wiki page).

Dan Gilmartin, Executive Director and CEO of the Michigan Municipal League makes the case for the Economics of Place for his and all communities quoting Fred Kent at the Project for Public Spaces, “Turning a place from one that you can’t wait to get through into one that you never want to leave.”

What is Place? | Economics of Place
Experts from around the world—in academic, business, and public sectors alike—have shown that strategically investing in communities is a critical element to long-term economic development and quality of life in the 21st century...
To be successful communities must effectively develop and leverage their key human, natural, cultural and structural assets and nurture them through enacting effective public policy.
One organization working to promote this approach is featured in the Place as Economic and Social Engine (wiki page) is Strong Towns.

Home - Strong Towns
The mission of Strong Towns is to support a model for growth that allows America's towns to become financially strong and resilient. The American approach to growth is causing economic stagnation and decline along with land use practices that force a dependency on public subsidies. The inefficiencies of the current approach have left American towns financially insolvent, unable to pay even the maintenance costs of their basic infrastructure. A new approach that accounts for the full cost of growth is needed to make our towns strong again.
It is the position of Strong Towns that to get a higher return on our public investments requires an understanding of what it takes to build great towns and neighborhoods. We have explored the concept of Placemaking before with the blog posts Placemaking, for communities the canvas becomes the art, Bicycles Build Communities, and Finding the soul of your community and the reason to create your own community paradigms for which the perspective was more of Placemaking being the result of good community planning.

Strong Towns in contrast establishes Placemaking as a basis for good economic planning by a community. The principles of Placemakingas put forward by Strong Towns can be found here Placemaking Principles - Strong Towns.

The Executive Director of Strong Towns is Charles aks Chuck L. Marohn Jr., Professional Engineer with an AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners) designation but more relevant to this effort he is a Confessed Recovering Engineer and the primary voice behind Strong Towns.

If you spend time on the Strong Towns blog you will soon find out that Chuck has a big problem with communities being so dependent that they cannot achieve financial sustainability. Chuck does not want to see communities addicted to dependency on automobiles, on cheap energy, on transfer payments between governments or on debt.  He sees the entire ongoing pattern of American suburban development since the end of World War II as an immense Growth Ponzi Scheme as a runaway experiment and nobody seems able to stop flipping the third big switch of the generator (Igor: Not the third switch!)

Taking 30 plus years of established economic policy and saying that it doesn’t work fits in well with an effort calling for new community paradigms. He has a complete series on the topic that can be read by following these links which are from the original Growth Ponzi Scheme post.

Day 1: The Mechanisms of Growth - Trading near-term cash for long-term obligations.

Day 2: Case studies that show how our places do not create, but destroy, our wealth.

Day 3: The Ponzi scheme revealed - How new development is used to pay for old development.

Day 4: How we've sustained the unsustainable by going "all in" on the suburban pattern of development.

Day 5: Responses that are rational and responses that are irrational.

Chuck also has a problem with people not appreciating the difference between streets and roads. I will let Chuck explain the difference himself through the TEDx video below.

One of the online resources that will be featured more fully in the future on these pages is Complete Streets which has its own perspective on an ideal complete streets policy. We have been concentrating so far on the communities themselves. In the future we will be considering the connections between communities in terms of cooperation, collaboration and competition. It is enough here to say that Chuck has his own perspective on Complete Streets as an organization and as a policy goal.

For Chuck, to use his own words, (t)he idea of a Complete Street is compelling in almost every way, but when the engineering profession begins to adopt it wholesale, we need to pause and look at the outcomes. Remember the Confessed Recovering Engineer perspective, so Chuck's tactic involves the Co-opting of Complete Streets, an approach with which this effort is very comfortable as the need to overcome an intractable incumbent power base is sure to arise in some circumstances.

Chuck is more than willing to hold a Strong Towns Curbside Chat with any community that is willing to listen and plans on being out in Southern California around April of 2012. In the meantime you can read up on the Curbside Chat Book-LO.pdf.

Other ways of connecting with the Strong Towns movement is on Facebook which provides anyone interested access to an education and advocacy organization committed to creating durable, fiscally sustainable and desirable communities. The Strong Towns Network provides a forum to those who want to participate and contribute at a more involved level, basically the difference between groupies versus adherents. There is a link to the Strong Towns Network at the right hand column of this blog.

Hopefully, this post provides a good introduction of the Strong Towns approach. We will be returning both to Strong Towns and to the Place as Economic and Social Engine wiki page to explore some of the other resources available more in depth.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Economic Growth and Equity within a Community - Benefiting the 100%

In the last post, we talked about Budgeting For Community Prosperity (wiki page), putting forward the idea that budgeting for community prosperity requires transparency as one means of addressing the upcoming period of austerity in which most communities will find themselves. Important though as budgetary transparency is, just as important is understanding where the dollars come from, where they are going and how they are used.

Within the creation of a community, beyond the individual accumulation of wealth by individuals, families, organizations or businesses there is also an emergent community wealth.

This is not a socialistic notion that is being put forward as it is not owned or directed by or derived from or generated by government. It is the community working together through the efforts of individuals, families, organizations and businesses that creates a community's wealth.  Local government can take steps to encourage its development and taps into it for municipal revenue.

More will be said of this concept in a future post but the benefits of a community's wealth should be made to benefit to the greatest extent possible all members of that community.

We are now speaking of the impacts of Economic Growth and Equity (wiki page) by a community and within a community. This is not a 1% versus 99% issue. The 1% does not live in the same communities as the 99%. People can choose their own brand of politics and economics for their families which in aggregate will define the community but within any community that one calls home it should be the 100% that is considered when making decisions for the community as a whole.

Under the post Governance through Community we spoke of factions within a community potentially being marginalized. The budget process is one way by which this can happen. A new community paradigm approach to public policy at the local level would hopefully be able to overcome this practice put forward by an incumbent political processes.

There are two levels were this could happen. First, at the level of broad policy based issues of employment, fiscal policy or environment among others that impact communities not only at a regional and state level but also at the national and global level. This adds to the complexity of issues with which a community must deal.

One relevant resource for these types of discussions is The Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution.
The Hamilton Project seeks to advance America’s promise of opportunity, prosperity, and growth. The Project’s economic strategy reflects a judgment that long-term prosperity is best achieved by fostering economic growth and broad participation in that growth, by enhancing individual economic security, and by embracing a role for effective government in making needed public investments. We believe that today’s increasingly competitive global economy requires public policy ideas commensurate with the challenges of the 21st Century.
Another institution concerned with Economic Growth and Equality is the Center for American Progress.
The Center for American Progress held a forum on economic growth and equality. After opening remarks from Vanessa Cárdenas and Angela Glover Blackwell, members of the first panel talked about the link between economic growth and equality. Economist Emmanuel Saez in his presentation used graphs to show the relationship between equitable distribution of wealth and economic growth.
There are, to be fair, other organizations out there with the same focus but a different political perspective. These organizations though take a more community based approach in line with the thinking of this blog.

An organization with a focused on-the-ground concern regarding the question of community benefit for all members through Equity In Public Funds is the Advancement Project California. This approach works more directly with the concept of community paradigms.
Our goal is to provide public finance data, tools and training to local community-based organizations to strengthen their public interest and organizing campaigns. Equity in Public Funds partners with and increases the ability of community-based organizations to produce analyses of City and County fiscal inequities and advocate for reform.
This is the same organization behind Healthy City (wiki page). The Advancement Project offers Following the Money EPF.pdf as a tool to address concerns of budgetary transparency raised here and the last post by providing information on:
  • How to read a city budget, 
  • Where to find other key information that is not included in the budget, and 
  • When and how to influence the city budget. 
While the document deals specifically with the City of Los Angeles budget there are still lessons that can be learned.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Budgeting for Community Prosperity requires a Clear View

The word austere has been thrown around in two recent posts, Governance through Community and Second look at Making Cities Work but there has been little discussion so far as to money or budgets.

Although budgets are important and in truth an essential evil, they are a function of institutions and not of communities.  Budgets are not evil in themselves but they often turn into the master of planning instead of a guide to planning.  They do serve an important function, particularly when developed and implemented with a philosophy of transparency as their basis.

One of the complexities facing communities today is that they not only have to worry about their own community's budget but the budgets of state and federal governments as well.  They also have to worry about the regional impacts of budgetary decisions which falls between the local and state levels.  There are reasons to justify this worry.  Not only do communities receive a good deal of funding from or through state and federal agencies, the budget decisions regarding intra-communities infrastructure and other expenditures made by state and federal agencies also impacts communities.  This is a two-edged sword and communities need to be careful in how they use these resources.  Some have not been and are paying the price.

All of this presumes though that the members of a particular community have decided to take the lead in self-governance which is at the heart of the new community paradigms movement.  This is more likely in Innovatitown than it is in Parochialville but even in Parochialville there could be a desire for greater transparency and insight into the budgets that have an impact on their community.  The New Community Paradigms wiki page Budgeting For Community Prosperity offers some resources, though so far resources directly related to community budgeting have not been included.

What can be found are resources offered by California Budget Project or CBP which engages in independent fiscal and policy analysis and public education with the goal of improving public policies affecting the economic and social well-being of low- and middle-income Californians. This organization could serve as a template for local communities developing protocols for greater public inclusion.
The CBP believes that information can help give voice to those who often go unheard in budget and policy debates. “Knowledge,” as the saying goes, “is power.” Since 1995, the CBP has worked to make the budget more understandable and to shed light on how budget and related policy decisions can affect the lives of low- and middle-income Californians.
The California Budget Project is also on Facebook.  The CBP has served as a resource for policymakers, advocates, community leaders, interested citizens, and the media since 1995.

Another organization working to bring greater transparency to California's government and budgetary processes is California Common Sensea Stanford-based nonprofit using Silicon Valley technologies to open government finances to the public, engage citizens in data-driven discourse, and catalyze a grassroots movement for more effective and efficient governance.  

As with many of the resources provided through the New Community Paradigms wiki California Common Sense or CACS is also on Facebook.
CACS is the first organization in history to mine California's vast records and successfully construct an organizational mapping of the several thousand agencies, departments, councils, committees, branches, sections, divisions, and subdivisions—many of them redundant—within California's executive branch. This research base and user-friendly online map will enable CACS to create the clearest case for establishing better governance.
California Common Sense created a Transparency Beta for the City of San Francisco based on its Theory of Change.
Imagine a world in which ordinary citizens are invested in their governments and take ownership of them by virtue of actually knowing a) how government works and b) how their tax dollars are used for public services. We at CACS see that world vividly and are guided by the vision that solutions to major local and state problems will stem from the marriage of transparency and engagement. The innovative technologies we use open up government, expose its excesses, draw its shareholders-particularly young people-into the political process, and improve the efficacy of services on which citizens rely.
Perhaps some organization such as Code for America will create an app that will make it possible for smaller communities to set up Transparency Betas for their own budgets.  However, as important as budgetary transparency and appreciation of where the dollars are going may be, it is not as important as an understanding of where the dollars come from and how they get to where they need to be.   That will be the subject for the next post. 

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