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Defining the (Stable) New City

I had the great pleasure of having lunch with futurist Glen Hiemstra (www.futurist.com) yesterday. The evening before, we were joined at dinner by Phil Kushlan, former city manager and well known urban planner. Both have experience with and an innate feel for cities of the future and the conversation was, to say the least, extraordinary.  At one point during lunch, I shared my prediction with Glen that the most ‘magnetic’ cities, regions, and organizations would be those providing some level of stability. I explained that, while most pundits believe that future societies will be highly mobile and individuals will have many jobs and even careers during a lifetime, I believe that challenges of the future will bring about a new appreciation for stability. But, in my view, stability not only pertains to the number of jobs and careers, it includes factors associated with the environment, water, weather, taxes, transportation, housing, education, and the availability of financing.

Richard Florida (www.creativeclass.com) implies some of these elements in his book, Who’s Your City (Basic Books, 2008). While his earlier book The Rise of the Creative Class focused on his belief that cities offering the best environments for creativity, latitude and opportunity would be the most successful, Who’s Your City dives deeper into the creative economy and how it will attract the type of commerce needed to fuel new age sustainable economic development.  Too much to review here, but I encourage you to read the book.

Maslow Reference

Of particular note is the Chapter 10 reference to Abraham Maslow, the eminent psychologist who originated the theory of self-actualization. In this chapter, Florida reviews the survey conducted by his Creative Class Group, through which five major categories of community attributes were identified – Physical and economic security (crime rates, safety, direction of the economy), basic services (schools, healthcare, affordable housing, roads, public transportation), leadership (quality and collaboration among civic and business leaders), openness (tolerance/ acceptance), and aesthetics (cultural offerings and beauty). As I read this chapter, one conclusion was apparent to me. A primary outcome of all of these desirable community attributes distills down to broad-based stability. Especially in these challenging times, people don’t want to worry about and deal with escalating crime, poor leadership, high housing costs, poor roads, crummy schools, declining water supplies, rising energy costs, and intolerant neighbors.

The Self-Actualizing Community

Available research seems to reach similar conclusions through various convolutions. Whether communities can reach a level of ‘transcendence’ after satisfying each requirement of the ‘hierarchy of need’ is a matter of perspective. For those of us who work in the arena and focus on practical implementation more than theory, a lot of work must be done to create new equations that are practical, workable, and affordable. I love the new age of community planning. My concern is not ‘What’ we need to aspire toward, but ‘How’ we get there from here with myriad new challenges and costs appearing every quarter.  Most public leaders know what should be done; the dilemma is how to accomplish various tasks with limited funds, disenchanted citizens, frustrated employees, and a struggling economy. Thoughts and suggestions?

With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. An innovative and dynamic presenter, John is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.

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