Solution proposed by:
In a Nutshell:
Cities have visionaries, designers, planners, policymakers, and project managers galore. But few strategists. As a result, the most common causes of failure are 1) bad strategy, and 2) no strategy. The Renewal Strategy Guide is an attempt to solve that problem.
Where and When:
Dozens of cities. Johannesburg is cited here.
Many worthwhile initiatives struggle in vain to make a difference, due to lack of strategic skills. Among them are urban / rural regeneration; natural resource restoration; renewable energy; catastrophe recovery, sustainability, smart growth, climate resilience; corporate social responsibility; brownfields/infrastructure renewal; and social/economic/environmental justice.
A strategy is a technique or method for achieving a goal. The right strategy maximizes your chance of success and minimizes your expenditure of time and resources. For example, water is a powerful revitalizer. The key to tapping its power is often a “3Re Strategy” (Repurpose-Renew-Reconnect). Sometimes we must repurpose a body of water (such as from manufacturing to recreation). Sometimes we must renew it (such as cleaning and restoring a river). Sometimes we must reconnect people to it (such as removing or burying a waterfront highway). All three together can yield magic. Any community that has a significant waterfront, and that isn’t revitalizing, probably isn’t trying very hard. Or they don’t have the right strategy.
Strategy is the key factor in the outcome of most endeavors. So why are the military and business worlds almost alone in teaching it? Most people can figure out that a strategic nuclear weapon is designed to win the war, while a tactical nuclear weapon is designed to win a battle. Thus, they can surmise that strategies achieve overarching goals, while tactics achieve sub-goals. But again: why should we mostly think of strategies and tactics in a military context? Aren’t all of us trying to achieve goals large and small? Everyone uses the word “strategy”, but few understand it. Everyone says they have a strategy, but few can state it. Everyone knows what a tactic is, and assume a strategy is a collection of tactics. Nope: that’s a plan. Some dictionaries even define strategy as a “plan” for achieving a goal. Little wonder, then, that folks are confused as to the difference between a strategy and a plan. One difference is that people with a strategy tend to take action. But with planning, the norm in most cities is “plan and forget”. Even among those who know they need a strategy, few know how to create a good one. And even fewer know how to implement one, so the strategy often gets lost when the plan is being written. That’s akin to an author who forgets the plot while writing a novel. But, unlike a bad novel, a bad plan can ruin millions of lives for decades. A plan without a strategy is often a plan for disaster.
You’ve probably read about the EcoMobility Festivals sponsored by ICLEI. The most recent one took place in October of 2015 in Sandton, a traffic-congested district of Johannesburg, South Africa. The festival lasted an entire month, which cost millions of dollars. Why so long? Strategic thinking. The vision ICLEI wanted to achieve was lasting change for the better. If a street is closed for a day, people might visit it out of curiosity, but they’ll probably drive there. If an area is closed to traffic for a week, people needing to get there—such as for a dental appointment—might reschedule the visit to avoid being inconvenienced in their car. But if an entire district is closed to cars for an entire month, people will have to find another way in. They might take a bus for the first time. Or they might realize how few other options there are, and demand more buses, trolleys, or subways. That can lead to lasting change. The key was to devise a strategy (“close an entire district to cars for a month”) that would help ensure that the tactic (“shutting down car traffic”) actually accomplishes the goal. Most places just set a goal, and rush right into writing a plan. That plan might be expertly detailed on the best possible ways to close a place to cars for a day or weekend. But it will fail, because nobody took the time to create an overall process (strategy) that optimized the tactic’s ability to succeed.
More success. Fewer failures. In 2010, FaceBook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to fix Newark, New Jersey’s public school system. It was matched by another $100 million, mostly raised by then-Mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie. The simple, sensible tactic? Pay the best teachers better. But there was no strategy for dealing with the reality of established teacher contracts or state laws. For want of a strategy, $200 million was lost