Blog direction... towards the robust and resilient city
Over the 3.5 years that I have been writing regularly in this blog (it took til February 2005, even though the blog was created in November 2004 before I started writing regularly and in-depth), I have produced about 5,500 entries. Granted some are only photographs, but overall it represents a great deal of writing. So more and more, I don't feel compelled to write something about an issue of the day if I have written about it (especially more than once) before i.e., discussion of the height limit, certain aspects of historic preservation, or even the new direction of parking policy in DC (which seems to be moving in the right direction in some substantively transformational ways).
2. Similarly, I am more interested in broad issues concerning the development, maintenance, and extension of robust systems, structures and processes, rather than the specific example/event that may illustrate some point.
3. Within cities/within DC proper, I am more interested in the citywide and regional ramifications of issues, rather than specifics within a neighborhood, even my own.
4. The introduction to the blog states that it is about:
place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging
based on the realization that
A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic.
Is that about "Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space" or is it about more than place, urban design and placemaking?
5. In email the other day, from the Resource Centres for Urban Agriculture and Food Security (based in the Netherlands), they used the phrase the resilient city. This phrase is being used in academic writing (such as in the title to the book, The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster) about urban disaster planning and recovery.
But I think the resilient city is about building robust systems, processes, ways of thinking and acting and being that go beyond disaster. Resilience should be about sustainability, not "green" per se but about "sustainable land use and resource planning," which isn't a phrase or acronym ("SLURP") that has caught on. Resilience should be about creating and building value rather than merely spending money.
6. Resilience is about robust systems. Or as Pasteur was fond of saying: "chance favors the prepared mind."
In the entry "System transformation or people vs. systems and structures" from 2007, I wrote:
There is an interesting article in a back issue of the National Journal comparing Gov. Schwarzenegger to President Bush. ("Yes, He's Back," by John Maggs in the 2/17/2007 issue.)
The major thesis is that Arnie focuses on a flat organizational structure--promoted by business types such as Jack Welch--and capturing the knowledge and leadership within (in the case of politics, regardless of political stripe, at least to some extent), while President Bush believes in democracy and participation as far as the election is concerned, and then autocracy afterwards.
This comes closest to describing my discontent with how government and civic engagement works in Washington, DC at the local level. Democracy during the election cycle; autocracy afterwards.
So a lot of ability and insight ends up being ignored, and the achievement of excellence, best practices, innovation, and transformation appears to be more and more remote.
From the article:
...the nature of leadership shouldn't change just because of the size and complexity of an organization... As organizations become vastly more complex, the need for flatness actually increases... To avoid being strangled by bureaucracy, complex, "networked" organizations must simplify management. (34)
According to the prevailing management theory, two conditions are crucial for running a large organization through delegation--fostering debate and holding subordinates responsible. (35)
7. I think resilience and robustness is about transformation of programs and service delivery, versus doing the same thing over and over again, and failing to look at and address the fundamentals of the problem. A way to do this is to marry design-based thinking and social marketing, as described in the blog entry "Dispuptive innovation (once again)" instead of the more traditional "rational planning" method, which in reality, ends up being a somewhat static approach.
8. In times of limited resources, governments need to think about what is done in terms of added value, neutral value, and destruction of value. Government expenditures should prime the pump and make things better, while encouraging people and organizations to invest--in terms of all types of assets including time/volunteerism, not just money--indepedently of and in addition to government action. Spending government monies on system maintenance, when the system is flawed, doesn't move us forward.
There is an interesting example of this in terms of police departments, comparing DC to Baltimore. DC has experience a spike in violent crime, including murder. DC's response has been checkpoints (see "As city homicides decline, special police team gets most of the credit" and the follow up editorial, "Reducing homicides," both from the Baltimore Sun and "Liberty Takes a Holiday in Occupied Trinidad" from the Washington Post and "Crime-fighting All Hands initiative launched" from the Washington Times) of a manner that is seen to be restrictive of civil liberties and "all hands on deck" operations adding police personnel to the streets in times of crisis.
Instead, Baltimore has focused resources of multiple agencies on the most violent/people with propensity to violence in the three most violent police districts in the city, and while DC's murder rate has increased in 2008, during the same period, Baltimore's has dropped by about 40%.
From the Sun article:
Police said there are many possible explanations for the decline in homicides this year, including greater coordination between local, state and federal authorities. But they believe the city's new approach to these perennially dangerous corners of the city has been a factor.
In the past, they said, there was a tendency to shift resources in response to developing crises, a temporary solution that sought to prevent incidents from spiraling out of control but which potentially left other areas vulnerable. And leaders say such rapid deployments are still a useful and necessary strategy as police evaluate crime trends on a day-to-day, sometimes hour-by-hour basis.
The geography factor
But members of the recently formed Violent Crime Impact Division's enforcement team remain rooted in the Eastern and Western districts, along with the Northwest District. Police declined to disclose the number of officers in those teams, which supplement beat officers and other units operating in the area.
"The thinking behind it is, if you map out violent crime and look at homicides and shootings in general, you'll see they occur in the same geographical areas," said Col. Dean Palmere, who heads the VCID unit. "Once you identify and learn those individuals in those geographical boundaries, and you work up historical information, it gives you a guide - it gives you what window you should be looking in."
9. Building the robust and resilient city is the direction that I am moving towards in my thinking and writing, and where I hope to lead the consulting work that I do, which tends towards commercial district revitalization and destination development.
Labels: the robust and resilient city