Every project should have something beautiful about it. Whether it be a creek alignment project or a new asphalt road, beauty is a critical component of any local project. Without it, you stand a very good chance of losing public support for that project or even future endeavors. In real estate we call it curb appeal, at a restaurant it is presentation or ’sizzle’, and in most trades we equivocate beautify to quality craftsmanship. Paying attention to the details and going the extra mile almost always pays for itself in added overall value to the community. You also retain future support from the people footing the bill, the taxpayers. Always remember, beauty inspires.
There is, however, a danger to this kind of thinking. Some of our municipal, state, and federal buildings are an example of the misapplication of this theory. Most of these buildings do little more than house the people responsible for serving the public while they conduct the business of the local government. These structures should be solid, efficient, and attractive, but not gaudy or extravagant. Taxpayers and local officials should always be focused on utility, function, and accessibility to the public when designing any government workspace.
It has been said that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.” A Chinese proverb also says “One generation plants a tree and another gets the shade.” It is my firm belief that municipal management’s primary focus should be building infrastructure for the generations to come. Band-Aids and patches should rarely be substitutes for careful planning and consistent application of time, money, and resources to solve tomorrow’s problems, today. No generation is exempt from the responsibility to properly care for what we have in order that our children may be capable of doing the same. Even with excellent planning, we still could not reasonably “maintain” all of our infrastructure at such an ideal condition that it would remove the responsibility of the next generation. It is a cycle that will never end and therefore must never be broken. If our parents and grandparents had adequately understood the value of quality craftsmanship and the value of consistent application of funds to improve our infrastructure, we would likely be contemplating how best to save our resources for the future.
There is a logical reason for this “falling-down” within our infrastructures. Gross negligence or irresponsibility are not to blame for the former generations missing the mark. I will write on this more in the future, but the deterioration of buying power, lack of efficiencies, and lack of transparency have significantly added to the creation of the mess we now need to clean up.
How does a generation “catch up”? Quite simply, through the application of successful leadership. Think slow, think consistent, think beauty, and let time be your ally. Use innovation and creativity. Demand more for less. Learn to say NO, and find ways to integrate quality craftsmanship into projects. There are many beautiful communities that have a much higher cost of living, but conversely there are very few ugly ones. In other words, “you get what you pay for.” Citizens will almost always support projects they can be proud of. They rarely fund projects that they believe will end up being unattractive and low quality. Again, this isn’t to say an attractive community is necessarily a successful one. Communities that do, however, seek to find efficiency and quality in the details are far less likely to approve low-quality projects that will just have to be replaced by our children. Slow and steady is boring and fighting for longer-lasting, more expensive projects may make it harder to get re-elected, but…
“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.” -Stephen R. Covey
We must learn to define the issues, create a solution, apply necessary actions, and accept nothing but the best quality and service for our community. Remember, we are building a community that you are going to be sharing with your future family. Make it count and make them proud. Set an example of disciplined application of funds and set your mark for sustainable projects and policies.
So why don’t more communities build longer-lasting roads, install better-quality park equipment, or avoid budget black holes (net losses) such as golf courses? Think about it. Most people, including the local officials, don’t actually want to support inferior projects. Usually, the pressure to “fix it now” has a lot to do with the tendency toward these decisions. Projects that are rushed and hurried rarely last for a long time. Another problem — the difficulty of maintaining a well-informed governing body — is the least obvious and yet the easiest to fix. You may be amazed to know that many of your local government officials do not collaborate and share their opinions about the “higher” subjects such as sustainable construction. Lack of information about such subjects can make it difficult for a council meeting to go much beyond the daily concerns of water bills or zoning permits. While every public official would certainly claim to support solid, long-term endeavors rather than half-planned, low-quality projects, the truth is that many of them simply don’t know the best way to go about it.
You see, we are to blame in a way. We assume so often that because people are in government, they must have all the information they need to make great decisions. Go to your next meeting and help them out.
Also, the next time you are driving in your community, look around to see if you can identify which projects are likely to have such a long-term positive impact that they will benefit your grandchildren. Then find some projects that most likely will not. Could your community have done a better job of building those projects to last longer? How much more would it have cost? What elements are missing to give it that added sense of pride and completeness?
If you want to see your community grow smarter and focus on building for the future, I encourage you to attend the next city council meeting and voice your thoughts. Call your local elected officials as well and ask them to consider making the next project one for posterity.
Feel free to pass this along to your local officials as well. Best of luck!