Over two years ago I wrote down something that I called the Wise Economy Manifesto (first draft). The purpose of that statement was to try to capture the sea change that I think we need to make with regard to how we manage the world of local government. I have worked with communities for about 20 years, and I’ve stood in the midst of places that were thriving and places that were collapsing. From what I saw and what I know about economies, planning, organizations and psychology, I ended up joining the small but growing army of folks advocating for a a deep-seated reset to how we do the important work we do – convinced that the needs are bigger than a new program or a new method. And because my experience has crossed many professional boundaries, I was inclined to seek a holistic approach – a sort of universal theory that takes the work of many who strive to make communities better and sets their efforts in a deep-structure context.
So I wrote a thing called the Wise Economy Manifesto, and in it I tried to encapsulate everything I was thinking. And I think it did that. But as I have been living with it, and speaking and writing from it over the last couple of years, I have been coming to the conclusion that I made that first attempt more complicated and more fragmentary than it needed to be. So I’ve taken another whack at it, and I’d be grateful for your feedback. In the coming months, I plan to be developing some tools to help you put this into action, so the secondary question I have for you is, what can I provide to help you get there?
Here is the Wise Economy Manifesto (version 2.0):
- Communities are human ecosystems. Everything we do, whether a land use plan or an economic development incentive, or any other public policy, isn’t going to stay in the silo where we put it. What we do will have wide and deep, and often unintended, repercussions, and we need to change how we work and think to anticipate those as best we can.
- That which makes you unique makes you valuable. Communities cannot offer everything to everyone, and they shouldn’t try to. The great challenge of planning and economic development is to uncover, brush off, and illuminate those characteristics that make a place deeply, meaningfully unique. There is little value in being a commodity, but much opportunity in a well-defined niche.
- We must focus on cultivating our native economic species. The thing that grows naturally where you are can, with a little help and protection, provide more long-term benefit (and fewer of those unintended repercussions), that the exotics that we try to transplant at great cost. In this era, the chase after the flashy, the big, the long shot, is too costly and too risky to deserve the lion’s share of our attention.
- Beware the magic pill. We all want easy answers; we all want there to be a simple solution. There isn’t one. Get used to it, and commit yourself to incremental, complex, messy change.
- Crowdsourced wisdom is the best way to find a real solution. We have tough challenges in front of us, and we need all the bright ideas that we can get. But just like water needs to be guided into a channel before it can drive a turbine, we have to take the lead in guiding our community’s wisdom into fruitful efforts. An open mic in the middle of the room ain’t gonna cut it.
- We whose have the job of helping communities work better have to be brave. We have to reconnect to the reasons why we got into this, before the rules and bureaucracy and politics tried to beat it out of us. Whether we want to or not, we are going to be on the front line of the fight for new solutions, and we are going to be useless if we are just punching the clock. We have to critically re-assess our professions and organizations and communities, and find the fortitude to break through the walls that are keeping our communities from being successful. We cannot be foolhardy, and we must admit that we don’t have all the answers. But we have to be brave enough to do our job, and lead the expedition.
I’d be grateful to know what you think, if I am missing anything, etc. Thanks.