This essay is drawn from The Local Economy Revolution Has Arrived: What’s Changed and How You Can Help. This updated and expanded version comes out next week (eek!) You can get an Insider Discount by pre-registering at https://forms.gle/ZFMZwqrxG7XhLad29
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In the last blog, we talked about arguably the core principle of the Local Economy Revolution – the first of the First Principles. Which is that we are in the middle of moving from an Industrial Era world — not just in terms of how we use money, but in terms of how we communicate, learn, organize, think, develop and wield power. The GameStop Reddit phenomena going on now is an early example of this new paradigm and how it conflicts with the old paradigm.
Much of the tension we’re experiencing today in our communities is between not just the visible elements, but between the underlying assumptions/paradigms of Industrial Era thinking and its fundamental mismatch with this emerging world We sort of know that, but we usually don’t get beyond a surface intellectual awareness — we can say “oh yes, of course, it’s changing” and then go back to doing things exactly the way we have always done them without perceiving the mismatch — without perceiving how what we’re doing works at cross-purposes with what we just said. No wonder our methods don’t seem to work and we have headaches.
The next First Principle seems self-evident, but I would argue that it’s a prime example of that disconnect I just described. Here’s how it reads in The Local Economy Revolution Has Arrived:
- It’s not about buildings or spaces or even, really, economics. It’s about people. We know that, we know, but… we don’t. We say we’re building a street or a program or a product for people, but too often our plans don’t do what they were intended to do, or fix what they were intended to fix. But we pretend we don’t see that, and we move on to the next one.
Part of the problem is that we hold regular people at arm’s length from the process when they could potentially make it much more effective. But more importantly — and more problematically — we love the thing more than the people.
I think this is part of why we historically have done a lousy job of building meaningful collaboration between professionals and advocates and regular people. From tech development to urban design, we are really good at loving the thing more than the people.
Back to the book:
We say that we are designing and building our thing for people, but we get wrapped up in, obsess over, fall in love with the thing we’ve built, with its supposed beauty, simplicity, ideals, materials. We can easily do this with business ideas, and we definitely do this in architecture and urban design and historic preservation and public policy.
Why? For the same reason that we use babies and puppies to sell products. Because it’s easier to love the simple, the unambiguous, the not-yet-compromised, than it is to love messy, complicated, not-always-predictable people. Or places made for and by people.
Or let those unwashed mess up our masterpiece.
But when we make it about something other than people, when we fall in love with the thing we made ostensibly to help them, we shouldn’t be surprised when our creations make the lives of the people we thought we were helping worse, instead of better. Again, we’ve done that a lot during our Industrial Era upbringing. But we can’t pretend anymore that we don’t know any better.
So, that that’s a hard and uncomfortable truth. And we might be inclined to defend our usual approaches for a whole lot of reasons — we don’t have the budget, we “asked” and they didn’t respond, we have a time line to meet, etc.
But the fact of the matter is that we are trying to hang on to our Industrial Era, professional-driven, siloed systems when the world that those people live in is increasingly about distributed network power, deep collaboration, interconnectivity. They don’t have a reason to care about your timeline and your budget, in part because we haven’t communicated those effectively and in part because we are insisting on those over the realities that impact their lives.
The fact of the matter is that we have to make our work, whether a building or a program or an organization or a plan, about the people who will be impacted by them. And first and foremost about them. We should have before, but we increasingly have no other choice.