Someone who I see as being on a similar journey but on a different pathway in finding new ways to think about the economies of our communities is Della Rucker of Wise Economy.com. I have been following Della for a while through a number of LinkedIn groups, including Strong Town Communities and count her among my first level LinkedIn colleagues. This for me is very important because if sites like Facebook and Twitter are among the online pantries where I get new ideas then LinkedIn groups are the stovetop where I set them to stew.
Della was, as is my wife still, an English teacher, as well as a journalist. This arguably has an impact on both her thinking and writing and enabled her to create new processes to elicit the feedback necessary to move projects forward.
Della is a good choice to follow for ideas on community and economic development. She has the creds being one of only four known individuals to hold professional certification in both planning and economic development along with expertise in fiscal impact analysis, economic diversification strategies, market analysis and economic structure analysis, comprehensive planning and public participation.
Our pathways differ in geography. Della, as she says, had a pretty decent front row seat for the collapse of the Rust Belt economy. I went through the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California and while the California economy has not collapsed there are still numerous issues serving as the impetus for new community paradigms.
Where I see the greatest alignment though is with her concept of Wise Economies being the equivalent to human ecosystems and then her approach to taking the concept and developing it. My own thoughts on community environment versus community ecology discussed in the last post primed me for her ideas. She wrote a series of blog posts on this concept which I am summarizing here. Her perspective takes a below the roots as well as a holistic approach raising the question:
So how do we start building Wise Economies? Economies = Communities = Ecosystems
First, we need to change how we think about communities, businesses, organizations and governments. We need to understand that economic vitality depends on the health of a community, and that a community is not a set of separate, unrelated systems – a business district, a school system, a park system, a street system — but an ecosystem.
She does however provide a concrete manifestation of her ideas in the updated The Wise Economy Manifesto, Version 2.0. Here are some of the major points.
- Communities are human ecosystems.
- That which makes you unique makes you valuable.
- We must focus on cultivating our native economic species.
- Beware the magic pill.
- Crowdsourced wisdom is the best way to find a real solution.
- We whose have the job of helping communities work better have to be brave.
In this community, as in hundreds of others, the 800-pound gorillas, for better or worse, are gone. Instead, we have communities with a large number of smaller players – 100-pound or 50-pound gorillas, if you will. Capacity is still there, but it’s not as simple to get it in motion as it used to be. Since we have tended to think so simplistically, we don’t know how to harness those gorillas together. So we underestimate the capacity we have, we decry the loss of the Old Days, and we assume that we are stuck, that we can no longer make our communities better.
We no longer live in an era where we can take healthy, vibrant human ecologies for granted. We who work with local governments and nonprofits are our communities’ biologists – we see the warning signs of trouble before almost anyone else. We don’t always know how to solve it, and we don’t always do a good enough job sending up the alarm. And sometimes we get scared and don’t send up the alarm at all, or we raise our concerns timidly and back off when the gorillas growl. But we know what’s at stake.
What is more important, she brings forward the human face of such endeavors. Della's approach to writing seems to me to be more narrative and persuasive, even motivational than mine. Continuing on with Cultivating the Small Business Ecosystem (part 2), Della again argues for a more systematic approach to creating a Wise Economy particularly with economic metrics.
We do a particularly lousy job of monitoring our local small business ecosystems. We tend to assume that everything is fine based on a few overly-simplistic indicators, like the number of new businesses, without digging deeper into the data to understand whether those factors are actually signs of growth or decline.
It’s a tough challenge that I keep laying out with this Wise Economy thing. If you share my belief that the realities of the world and communities around us require us to rethink, reboot and re-engage in the work of building great communities, it’s easy to find yourself in the blind alley where those good intentions thump into a brick wall. So the key question becomes, “How?
Instead, start looking for the walls of your community’s, your profession’s, your organization’s paradigm. Think about what you and your peers are assuming, and what the alternatives might look like. Talk to people who have a different perspective — who come from other professions and other places. They might not want to rock your boat either, but there’s no harm in pushing them a little… and see what you can learn.;
Della comes back though to the pragmatic needs of communities. What does it mean to have a Wise Economy, and what does it matter to you?
I am happy that there are others that I can meet on this journey that are trying in their own unique way to make changes and create their own style of new community paradigms.