I’m slow but I get there: new presentations and stuff now on Slideshare

Even a tech hound like me gets overloaded with “platforms” sometimes.  I’ve been resisting posting to SlideShare because… I don’t know, because I post a hell of a lot of stuff all over. And I could never get the login right.  And whatever.


So, I finally dragged my butt into the new millenium and uploaded several recent presentations to SlideShare.  As you know if you’ve seen me speak, my presentations tend to run to lots of pictures and few words.  So while I think the uploaded presentations will give you a sense of what the session was about, in a lot of cases that by itself isn’t going to lead you to a high level of enlightenment.  The good news is that for a lot of my talks, you can

  • view video,
  • listen to an audio recording,
  • read a summary of the thing that I had previously written on that topic, and (soon)
  • pick up a Wisdom Single that gives a brief but more detailed write-up on that topic.

I’ll try to do a better job of keeping the SlideShare updated.  Really and for true.  In the meantime, if you want to check out a few of my recent presentations, you’ll find a few embeds below.

Have fun!

[slideshare id=38456237&doc=ridingthewaveaug2014-140828102456-phpapp01]

[slideshare id=38458043&doc=leadersorfeedersrucker072314-140828111159-phpapp01]

[slideshare id=38456083&doc=publicpartic20ncdd082614-140828102108-phpapp01]

[slideshare id=38456707&doc=strategicplanningannotatedoedamar2014-140828103631-phpapp01&type=d]

[slideshare id=38456504&doc=economicdevelopmentsjunkfoodignite-140828103118-phpapp01]

CNU22 and IEDC: A Tale of Two Conferences

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I spent last week at two conferences – the International Economic Developers Council and the Congress for the New Urbanism – where I figured I was the only soul who would schlep from one to the other.  They’re not exactly sides of the aisle that are known for being all buddy – buddy with each other. While I’m a regular at IEDC stuff, this was my first CNU – as I explained yesterday, I was there because a consulting team on which I had served was slated to receive an award.  Good reason to drag yourself from Minneapolis to Buffalo, I figured.  I was wrong about being the only one doing that, though.

Emily J. Brown is a planner and writer who plays a big role in IEDC’s research arm.  She’s also a CNU chapter board member.  So I thought that was she wrote after the two conferences was particularly illuminating — and important for a wider range of people to read.  Even though there’s a big silo in this photograph, I think it’s clear that we all have to get past our silos and start engaging in a meaningful fashion across community disciplines.  If we ever had problems that could be solved by just one of our types working along, we don’t anymore.

The interesting question to me is that I think I am starting to see a few small-scale cross-pollinations between community professions, but mostly we still say “yeah, we need to be working together” while housed safely within out organizations.  If we mean it, how do we start connecting across the disciplines?  Is that something that professional organizations can lead, or does that have to come from somewhere else?  What do you think?

Emily’s post was brief, so I’ll paste it in below.  I’d recommend you follow her at http://www.emilybrowndowntown.com/ or on Twitter at @ebrowndowntown.

Here’s Emily:

In the past week, I have been lucky enough to attend conferences of two of the most influential groups in the planning realm—the International Economic Development Council’s Spring Conference in Minneapolis, MN and the 22nd Congress for New Urbanism in Buffalo, NY. Though two conferences in one week can take a toll, I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to cutting edge thinking on building high-functioning communities from two very different angles.

In planning, there’s always been some tension between the policy folks and the design crowd. Those on the policy side pooh-pooh design, while advocating “real solutions.” In the economic development side these

Presentation at CNU
From Emily Brown

solutions ideally lead to jobs. Designers answer that the policy folks are not thinking holistically and advocate for elegantly framed places that organically attract people, investment, and yes, eventually, more jobs.

As a board member of my local CNU chapter and an employee of IEDC, I’ve got one foot in both worlds, and from where I stand, I see them growing closer together. In Minneapolis, economic developers were talking about the importance of new transit options in attracting and retaining a quality workforce, while in Buffalo, there were multiple sessions discussing the financial aspects of denser development. Often, I feel like the two groups discuss the same problems with different language. Such as when economic developers talk about fostering an “entrepreneurial culture” and new urbanists expound on the virtues of “lean urbanism.”

The last week has proved to me that the overlap in the Venn diagram between new urbanists and the economic developers is large and growing. Of course there are areas that don’t fit in—new urbanists don’t really have much to add to the conversation on engagement with Workforce Investment Boards, for example, and economic developers could care less about articulated windows, but the two groups could benefit from more interaction and conversation as both work towards finding solutions in a new economy.


For interesting discussion on financially-solvent economies, economic developers should check out Chuck Marohn’s blog, Strong Towns. They presented at Spring Conference, too!

Also don’t miss Joe Minicozzi’s work on the financial case for mixed-use development: here http://vimeo.com/93081281 and here http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/tag/joe-minicozzi/

Urbanists should check out the work of economic development consultant Della Rucker, who was part of the team working on the Charter Award winning form-based code for Cincinnati:http://wiseeconomy.com/

Also consider following @iedctweets for information on our webinars, blog posts, and newly released papers.



Miles to go before I sleep: Events & appearances this week (Oct. 23-26)

Having just come through a presentation and great discussions at the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) North American conference in Salt Lake City, and then a moderated session and lots of great discussions at the International Economic Development Council Annual Conference in Philadelphia…

you’d think it might be a good idea to stay near home for a while.  And my landscaping and half-empty freezer would agree with you, not to mention the other humans in the house:

(“What do you mean you can’t pick me up this afternoon?”  “Um, I’m in Utah, for one thing…”)

However, that’s not gonna happen.  Next week I’ll be roaming all over, switching hats on the fly and burning up my tires as I go.  Here’s the itinerary:

  • Wednesday and Thursday morning (October 23 and 24), I’ll be at the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City Economic Summit in my role as Managing Editor of Engaging Cities.  My plan is to record interviews and conversations with as many interesting people as I can during the time I’m there. If you see anyone on the agenda that you’re particularly interested in hearing from, let me know and I’ll work on it I’ll cross post what I learn both here and at EngagingCities.



  • Friday night, I’ll be heading from Columbus to Middlesborough, Kentucky to participate in their inaugural Better Block Boro event on Saturday, October 26.  I’m not exactly sure what I’m getting into, but it promises to be a combination street fair, unconference, urban hack, and DIY urbanism event — all in a (formerly) quiet Appalachian town.  I’ll be leading a pop up talk/discussion around the learnings from my new book, The Local Economy Revolution:What’s Changed and How You Can Help, signing booksdesk, and nosing around and recording as much of the other stuff going on as I can.

Then I come back and try to remember where my office is!

desk by window
The desk at The Clearing in Wisconsin where I wrote The Local Economy Revolution. If I end up here, I’m in big, big trouble.

Changing Your Culture of Public Participation (or, Not Giving the Chance to Say Stupid Things in Public)

In a true display of democracy, a town hall meeting held at the New Bedford High School auditorium Monday gave the crowd of approximately 550 residents the opportunity to publicly voice every last one of the inane thoughts and concerns they would normally only have the chance to utter to themselves.

Though the meeting was ostensibly held to discuss a proposed $21,000 project to replace the high school’s grass football field with synthetic turf, City Councilman Thomas Reed inadvertently opened the floodgates to a deluge of ill-informed, off-topic diatribes on inconsequential bullshit when he allowed those in attendance to demonstrate their God-given gift of language.

–“Town Hall Meeting Gives Townspeople Chance To Say Stupid Things In Public.”  The Onion (everyone knows that this is a satire/fake news web site, right?  


Just checking.)


This fall, my son starts a new high school.  After a lot of deliberation, my husband and I decided to acquiesce to the kid’s wish to attend an academically rigorous Catholic high school.  For a former public school teacher and career public education kid, this was a hard decision.  Our kids have gone to public school since kindergarten.  But in the end, we concluded that this was the right choice for this bright, serious, disciplined kid.  We decided that he needed an environment that would build on those assets.  And he wanted the challenge.  Hard to argue with that.

The kid was accepted in January.  By the time he starts school in August, he will have had one Saturday morning with the music program, a one on one with an assistant principal, two weeks of band camp and a two day freshman orientation.

He had the meeting with the assistant principal last Saturday.  It was not what I expected.  There’s my 14 year old, sitting across a conference table from a massive, intimidating-looking man–300 pounds of tie-you-in-a-pretzel-if-you-mess-up.  Generally a good trait in an assistant principal, thinks the former substitute teacher turned mom.

 The assistant principal places a binder full of information In front of the kid.  Mr. Intimidating then starts asking James questions (note that he had already been accepted). The questions start off with unsurprising stuff…what’s your favorite subject in school, what do you do outside of school…easy for the kid to answer. Then, the questions take a surprising turn: what kinds of situations stress you out? How do you deal with stress? What are you passionate about–what gets you out of bed in the morning?  If I asked your best friend to describe you, what would he say?

Find yourself a 14 year old boy and try those questions on him.  Or try them on yourself.

James stumbles through them, and Mr. Intimidating takes notes.

Then the assistant principal asks James to open the binder.  Sitting to the side, I steel myself for a marginally painful review of rules and requirements and consequences.  Instead, Mr. Intimidating spends the next 20 minutes conversing with James about the core principals of the school’s educational philosophy.

Critical thinking.  Self-awareness. Compassion towards others.  Integrity.

Deep stuff. Foundational stuff. Not a single rule or regulation.

As I listened, it dawned on me that this wasn’t a one-off thing.  It was just more obvious because of the setting.  When my son did the music department event a couple of weeks ago, the entire group of kids ended by singing the alma mater.  The incoming freshmen put arms around each others’ shoulders, exactly the way the upperclassmen do, while they tried to read the words off a piece of paper.

Find yourself a 14 year old boy and try to get them to put their arm around the shoulder of another boy.  Good luck.

And yet I watched my kid do exactly that.


Think for a moment about how we complain about the public’s involvement in our planning and economic development and local government–in person and online.  I opened this piece with a purposely over-the-top piece of satire, but…come on.   Hits a little close to home, don’t it?

We gripe that they don’t behave themselves, that they say nasty or off topic things, that they pound soapboxes…or worse yet, that they just don’t show up.

No wonder our meetings are so miserable.  It’s all their fault.

Now think for a minute about how much effort we’ve put into establishing our community’s culture of public engagement.  What have we — and our predecessors– done to convey, to demonstrate, what effective public engagement looks like?  What have we done to set the tone, to establish the environment we want?

Do we even know what the public engagement we want looks like? Or would we sound like a 14 year old trying to answer a question about how his best friend would describe him?

What public engagement culture do we have?

If all St. Xavier High School did was a 20 minute discussion of principles, I would never expect it to take.  A 14 year old would forget that stuff before he got out the door.  But when every aspect of the culture reinforces those principles– alma mater sung with arms around each other, freshman applauded by upperclassmen when they enter the assembly on their first day of school, senior mentors in freshman homerooms, band camp that welcomes new students instead of hazing them–then those principles come to mean something.  That’s how a culture–especially a culture that is radically different from what newcomers might expect– sticks.

The most successful companies all know that. Edward Deming, the father of modern manufacturing, gets quoted in business schools every day:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast and process for lunch.

Show me a Fortune 100 business, and I will show you how that company has built its culture through and into everything it does.


Last year I wrote a blow-by-blow account of how I managed a potentially contentious public meeting.  That post has now been read by 3,500 people.  Obviously that essay addressed something that a lot of people needed or wanted.

But keeping a meeting from blowing up….that’s simply classroom management.  That’s the very basics.  It’s not creating a constructive environment.  it’s not enabling a constructive culture.  It’s not in itself moving us forward at all.

We have to change the culture of community participation, and we have to do it top to bottom.  Organizations that take on culture change know that they have to do it intentionally…they have to build it into every interaction, every communication.  They need to consciously reinforce the principles of the culture they want–not just by saying what the principles are, but living them through every interaction.

What are your community’s public interactions telling people about how you want to relate?  What does the room setup say?  The rules…or lack of rules? The options and opportunities for involvement?

Is meaningful public engagement built into your processes, beginning to end?  How do you involve people upstream– in setting policy and deciding priorities? Do people have real opportunities to be part of the solution, or do your just invite them in when there is a fait accompli to argue against?

Do you give them the ability to do something other than say no, no, no?  Do you channel them into being part of the solution?

If you don’t, don’t despair. Culture change is a long and difficult process.  That’s why my son’s new school starts on this work long before they get their books, and why they build it all the way through the experience.  The more I think about it, I suspect it’s not luck….it’s got to be intentional.


Like more most analogies, this one breaks down. A 14 year old, to at least some extent, goes where you tell them to go and does what you tell them to do.  Especially if you are a 300+ pound assistant principal.  But your residents will participate only if they perceive that the value of doing so will exceed the c cost of their time and energy.  Which makes a culture of meaningful public engagement all the more important.

So you might as well get started.  Ask yourself: what would meaningful public involvement look like here? What do we need to learn from our residents? What do we want our public meetings to look, to feel like? What character, what principles do we want?  How can we build that into everything we do?

It won’t happen overnight. But goofy 14 year old boys don’t turn into men overnight, either.  So go ahead and get started.

Driving the new project off the lot and ignoring the re-appraisal

One of my regular correspondents is Charley Bowman, a career city administrator and now managing partner of Economic Development Data Services. Charley sent me this comment last week in response to my annotated presentation and podcast from my talk with Peter Mallow about deciphering and avoiding getting snowed by economic and fiscal impact studies.

Maybe because of his grogginess, Charley came up with a  clear and unforgettable way of explaining an uncomfortable truth: the combination of declining value and unintended consequences that tends to take the bloom off of those shiny new infrastructure projects we get all excited about.  But I’ll let him tell it.

I should point out, however, that I am either not old enough or not cool enough to have any clue what the Sea Level reference is about.  Knowing Charley’s music cred, it’s probably a little of both.


Good morning Della:

I am up early…the coffee effect is negligible. However, rambling onward..multipliers, economic impact…

I am thinking this morning that a new project is a lot like driving a new car off the lot. It has diminishing value over time. Every project has a strain on water, sewer and road systems. The project may or may not pay for future services – police fire, road maintenance, zoning, building inspection, recreation, schools, etc.

I once likened economic development to that of a junkie.  Eventually, the supply runs out or the quality deteriorates and you/the communities are strung out again.  It is the unintended consequence, “the agonizing re-appraisal” (to steal a lyric from Sea Level – “it’s your secret”).  But we don’t do that re-appraisal, since the Economic Development director then wants to be a city manager. Look at how many city managers have built their careers on ED — yes, guilty as charged.

At the same time, in this age of measuring everything, there has to be a measurement, a logic to doing/accepting the project. As economic development folks, we have to come up with a rationale for the tax break, the gift of land, etc. and compute it as an Return On Investment.   The difficult part is in applying the crystal ball to the alleged increase in value of the project  — and the accompanying increasing cost of municipal service (salaries, health insurance, infrastructure costs).

I think it is indeed possible to create an estimated model, but it is like trying to find the Holy Grail…

More on how consultants ain’t wizards… from real wise folks in the trenches

Sometimes when you put your ideas out there in the world, the responses take on a life of their own.  My post about the damage done to communities when we let consultants pretend that they are wizards led to a number of great comments here on the blog… and an alternatively informative, mind-stretching and downright funny thread on the LinkedIn Economic Gardening group.  The following exchange is pretty close to what was posted… I straightened up the grammar and sentence structure a bit and cut out a few (admittedly interesting) side items to make the whole thread a little easier to follow.

I encourage you to read, learn from the masters, and enjoy.  Thanks for a great discussion, folks!


Muriel L Eason • Della, I agree with the points… All too true in my experience. I also find that many consultants tend to interview local experts to factor their knowledge into their reports and conclusions, then charge a big fee and gain instant credibility.

Too often, the local experts are ignored or dismissed in favor of consultants, even if they are right in their conclusions …

Al Jones • As you point out Muriel, the insights are usually from the locals and long observed and mulled over, rather than a brilliant consultant working from some generalized Census data and a whirlwind tour of the town…. “The Music Man” number about the trouble in River City of bored and delinquent youth stemming from the recent arrival of a pool table is a classic consulting spiel  — [and] the solution [is] a  band that, of course, only the consultant could conceive, organize, supply and implement for the local yokels.

Economic Development consulting is nearly as rich as management consulting or engineering consulting in buzzwords, fads, trends, etc. and magic databases/ formulas/ powerpoint presentations…I haven’t learned to hide my disbelief when their work plan shows how they’ll learn the community and the regional economy in 2-3 days here and 7-8 brief interviews (I’ve often been one of the interviewees and taken them on tours, the shallowness of their actual curiosity is breathtaking, with rare exceptions …).

Getting their projects unstuck in a practical sense (I call it “Destuckifying” so it sounds more exotic and expensive) is a lot more productive and interesting, but far more tiring than running some listening sessions and crunching a bit of easy data.

Steven Deller • I recall when Arthur-Anderson got into the economic impact game….very slick presentations, very slick presenters, very high prices for services…..and it was junk science….I kept asking myself how they sleep at night. But slick sells…..

I do a lot of impact assessment in my work (IMPLAN-based mostly)….but I try to use the analysis as a chance to engage the community in a discussion about the local economy.

Someone mentioned “it depends” as a response…unfortunately its true.  One of my objectives in my graduate course in community economic development is to try to get students to understand it is never “black and white.”   It’s shades of gray…”it depends” on where on that spectrum of gray the community is  And in discussing “it depends,” we create a teachable moment about how the economy is put together and the fact that how it may play out in one community may not be how it plays out in another…. enough ranting…


Al Jones • We always learn something when you’re ranting, Steve. Please continue.

By the way, remember Arthur Anderson lied enough about Enron’s financial condition to lenders and regulators that it took that accounting firm down….


Steven Deller • Al, be careful what you ask for….never give a professor the microphone and say please continue! I am working on a paper for a conference right now about how to use impact assessment as an educational tool…it’s a chance to talk about how the economy functions.   I’ll be using  a couple of examples of how consultants have gone around stating, “For every job in this development there will be 8-10 jobs created through the multiplier effect.” Communities then let the get away with anything because of the promised huge economic impact…an impact that never occurs.

I am on a mission from God (said in my best Blues Brothers voice) to refute any multiplier bigger than two.


Al Jones • Being a complete pain in the patoot, I ask the consultant which jobs exactly, and then I  do some quick tracing from specific people/jobs/functions.   The multipliers then fall apart immediately.   If the wages are high enough,  the new hires will buy a lot of consumer services locally,  but many of  those are sparsely provided by part-timers or as a small part of a business’s client base (lawn mowing, home repairs, housepainting, babysitting, trash hauling, etc.).

Manufacturing jobs and sometimes heavy industry, natural resources or production agriculture can get exciting as a result of the actual supply chain jobs tied to them (job machine shops, industrial electricians, trucking, equipment rebuilding, consumed supplies provision, accounting, etc.), but for most other types of businesses you just don’t find those actual jobs when you peak behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain.,

Maybe the multiplier is based on personal servants afforded, and it’s just a Third World metric we shouldn’t be using here?


Steven Deller • Al, most consultants can’t answer those questions because they use RIMS II multipliers which do not allow you to decompose [understand and twiddle with the inputs to] the multipliers as you describe.


Al Jones • I use that lump of mostly inert tissue between my ears, a pencil and legal pad, and a lot of questions to do the calculations.  Even with several hundred or a thousand plus jobs, they will be clustered by job titles/functions/pay rates, so you’re usually looking at 5-10 groupings.  So it’s a half hour or less of calculation depending on how many cups of coffee I’ve had…often done during the boring parts of the meeting itself while I’m being told how this business may well change the course of civilization itself into a Golden Age.

The key is lots of strong coffee rather than software, it usually doesn’t merit an Excel spreadsheet when you look at the amount of wild ass guesses under their job numbers themselves.  Heck, if it ends in 00’s, I know it is a wild ass guess… when they show me a hiring plan broken down by jobs, number, training, and payroll cost, then I know it’s a real figure.

My deeply obnoxious verification method is to ask how many employee parking spaces they’ll need and mention the paving/site cost per spot so it’s clearly a budget and land-use question – that way, it’s not a throwaway number of “why 1 for every employee I just told you about, you befuddled bumpkin!”

Often the number of employees doesn’t match available local housing in that price point (taking the wages and figuring out what kind of rent or houses the employees can afford is basic realtor/mortgage lender math — I use a cheat sheet mortgage book table).  If most of them won’t be living in your community, you’ve just lost most of the mulitplier jobs to whereever they will live.

And when you look at their supply chain and how your community lines up next to it, you often find some version of this: “Oh crap, we don’t do that here.  We don’t stock that, nobody has that,  that work  goes to the next town or city down the road.”   Those realities  knock down the multiplier further,  as well as telling you what capacity might make a lot of sense to get going locally if you want to capture those dollars.

I’ve put a lot of facilities together over the years and it makes it really easy to separate out how fully thought out the project is. A simple way to do that is to have some general contractors and subs (electricians, HVAC, etc.) sit in instead of an architect or lender.  Let them ask the practical questions  –they can recognize B.S. or just early-stage fuzziness right away (“Oh I suppose we’ll need a lavatory for 500 people on site, you’re sure that HAS to be hooked up to city sewer?).

I’ve also worked on plenty of agriculture  processing facilities, and I learned quickly that if you talk to the farmers/ranchers to see what the job multipliers might actually be from the inputs side, those claims really fall apart fast…”Might buy another piece of equipment but sure wouldn’t be hiring anybody for that crop or additional critters!”

That’s a common answer.   I guess otherwise we’re going back to the time when Pharaoh would have to go declare war on a neighbor to get enough fresh slaves for all the extra irrigation ditches to be dug and redug for more cropland.


Della Rucker, AICP, CEcD • Man, you guys went to _town_ on this… and it’s not only an informative read, but darn funny. One doesn’t often find a thread with the Blues Brothers, RIMS II and Pharaoh all worked into it!

Would you all mind if I crib from your comments (with proper attribution) and make a follow-up blog post out of it? You’ve all done a great job of illustrating the deep workings of these kinds of studies and how to spot the analytical holes and half-baked assumptions. I’d like to share that insight with the people who read the blog and aren’t on this group.


Al Jones • Fine with me if you make us all funnier and smarter in our quotes than we really are.

Steven Deller • The more humor we can work into our work with communities the better…..

Judi Keller, MBA • I’d like a copy to laminate.


Podcast: A CDC Becomes a Savvy Negotiator at the East Liberty Development Corp., Pittsburgh

building under rehailitation
The building across the street, In process.

Talk about fascinating… One of the most successful community development corporations in the country once has a balance sheet of zero.  What do you do to help an organization like that get its footing — and get some much-needed redevelopment going in a hard-hit neighborhood at the same time?  Make them an investor in the project.


I interviewed Skip Schwab, Director of Operations for the East Liberty Redevelopment corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in mid-September.  East Liberty was once the third-largest shopping district in the state (yes, state), but got hit with a massive dose of disinvestment and well-intended but incredibly destructive urban renewal in the 1960s.   So this is the story of how a relatively small amount of well-placed redevelopment money and a commitment to meaningful public engagement around a plan set the stage for revitalization… and took years to play out.

The sound quality on this recording isn’t idea — finding a place in East Liberty that was relatively quiet on a hot early fall day turned out to be more of a challenge than either Skip or I planned.  And there are some tapping noises occasionally that I can’t trace.  Sometimes you gotta work with what ya got.

A couple of things to particularly look out for in this story:

  • During his time at LISC, Skip set up the CDC for its long-term success by giving them a seat at the table during the redevelopment discussions–but not putting them in a position of having to manage it, a task that the organization at that time would have found impossible.  When we work in a nonprofit setting, we sometimes assume that we have to be in charge in order to meet our mission, but I would propose that it’s better to be a savvy negotiator than a helpless and over-extended recipient.  The revolving loan that has grown out of that first investment and intelligent follow-ups says volumes about the wisdom of that approach.

    church building
    The Cathedral of Hope. At least, part of it. It’s huge.


  • The building that we discussed as being under construction at the time of the interview, and is literally across the street from the alcove bench that Skip and I were sitting on, was identified as the neighborhood’s top priority for redevelopment as early as 1999.  Almost 15 years ago.  Between then and now, at least four reputable, experienced developers tried to get the building rehabilitated… and failed.  The market could not support a reasonable use for it yet.  It is only now, over a decade into the area’s revitalization, that someone has been able to make the project work.  I haven’t investigated the project in detail, and I won’t claim to know if there might have been some creative way to make something work in the intervening years.  My suspicion is that if there had been a way, in this particular environment, with all the activity and pressure surrounding the building, someone would.

Most organizations would have flogged at that project because of its high priority and visibility, even as it clearly wasn’t working and as other, more achievable opportunities developed.  Revitalization isn’t a game of perfection, and from a position of relative hindsight it appears that they made the right call in letting this one sit on a back burner until other factors, including other high-profile developments, enabled enough change in the market to make a rehabilitation possible.  But….imagine the organizational guts required to keep it on that back burner, to fight the urge and the political pressure to try to force it to happen.  Imagine the tough questions, the snarky comments in the press.  And imagine the potential self-doubt among organization leaders.  That’s bravery, that’s grit.

  • Notice the importance that Skip places on the fact that the neighborhood had a plan — not the importance he places on it today as a staff member, but the importance he placed on the plan back then when he was the funder.  When he was trying to decide the reasonableness of an investment in a neighborhood with an urban renewal mess — and more importantly, a mess of an organization — the existence of the plan made the difference between funding and not funding.  And note that the plan he cites as making that difference wasn’t the urban design plan, with its pretty pictures and lovely renderings of some perfect future state.  At least in this interview, Skip doesn’t give that much attention.  His decision to pull the trigger, to make the investment in one of dozens of neighborhoods that were probably crying out for help at the same time, was driven by a community plan — by a document that demonstrated where the people of the neighborhood stood, what their priorities were, what problems they perceived and how willing they were to support change.  It was that plan, not the one with the pictures, that gave him as a funder the confidence that this was an investment with potential.

So again, please forgive the sound goofiness, and enjoy.  I had a blast with this interview, and I’d encourage you to check out http://www.eastliberty.org/.  You can also find an interesting article on the district’s urban renewal legacy at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303612804577533112214213358.html.


And of course, you can read about or listen to my interview with East End resident Rebecca Maclean of Food Me Once, Digging Deep  and Salt Pig Chicken Something fame  as we talk urban revitalization, entrepreneurship and hot dogs in East Liberty.

Don’t forget what success looks like.

The following blog post from www.businessinsider.com hit my inbox a couple of weeks ago during an intensely busy period.  We talk a lot in the Wise Economy world about the necessity of taking the long view, and that’s critical — especially when the near-term is seldom as straightforward and rational as we’d like.

It is very easy for ourselves, our communities, our local governments and our organizations to become demoralized by setbacks and misssteps — and if we are truly trying to get past old, ineffective approaches and move to something new, we’re going to have those all the more.

So the Hump Day message of this blog post is deceptively simple: focus on the long term, see the big picture, anticipate the unexpected the best you can, and keep pushing forward.  

Hang in there.  There’s a lot of us stuck in the tangle, but we won’t get out if we don’t keep going.


From Businessinsider.com:

This napkin sketch was tweeted this morning by Babs Rangaiah of Unilever (@babs26). It has been attributed to Demetri Martin, the author of a book called This Is A Book.

It’s wise:




Annotated presentations from APA 2012

When I give a presentation, my slides anymore usually have more words than pictures.  That’s what the presentation experts say you should do, but it means that when you download them from Slideshare or a conference website, the reaction is pretty consistent:  “Wha…..?”

To try to solve that problem, I have gotten into the habit of creating annotated versions of my presentations — basically the Notes page in Powerpoint with a description of what I said. (or what I should have said if I’d been more clever at that moment — hey, it’s my notes, let me pretend…)

When I gave two presentations at the American Planning Association conference last week — one as part of a panel on Commercial District Revitalization and Redevelopment, and one on Web 2.0 Tools for Public Engagement — I promised to post annotated versions for the people who came to download and use as notes.  And I figure some of the rest of you might find them useful, or at least amusing, too.

These links will take you to PDF versions with my annotations, which you should be able to download.

Feel free to share.  If you’re interested in a presentation like one of these for your organization or event, send me a note.  I talks real goodly. 🙂

Secrets of Retail Revitalization: Presentation at APA 2012

Web 2.0 Tools for Public Participation APA 2012








OCMA National Trends in Economic Development presentation

For those of you attending the Ohio City-County Manager’s association presentation today, here is a link to the presentation, in case you want to follow along.  Gold star for you!

National Trends and Best Practices in Local Economic Final 02.22.2012


Mark Barbash, Jim Kinnett and I are currently developing a training program and workbook designed to help local government staff and officials learn to do the kinds of strategy development that we think will be necessary for communities to thrive economically in the new reality.  If you’re interested in exploring training options for your organization or staff, drop me a line at della.rucker@wiseeconomy.com.