Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Cincinnati: Agenda 360

What does a civic vision plan look like? What should it look like? A recently issued report by a group called “Agenda 360” in Cincinnati gives us the opportunity to examine these questions.

Agenda 360 is designed to be a “Regional Action Plan” to “transform Cincinnati USA, by the year 2020, into a leading metropolitan region for talent, jobs and economic opportunity for all who call our region home” The project originated as a way to rally the community around a shared vision and objectives so that everyone is on the same page about where the community needs to go and what it needs to do. It’s focused on four Ohio counties, though recognizes Cincinnati as a bigger region and patterned itself after a Northern Kentucky initiative called Vision 2015, the idea being to align the two studies for more comprehensive vision. In that light, the plan focused on six main areas:

  • Quality Place
  • Business Growth
  • Qualified Workforce
  • Transportation
  • Inclusion
  • Collaborative Government

The project took about two years to complete. It involved a Who’s Who of public sector, business, and community leadership, and over 1000 volunteers. There was also a very extensive public involvement process.

Something to consider about these studies is that the end result or content is not always the most important outcome. Rather, efforts like this can be as much about the process, and the resulting bridge building and relationships that result, as any actual output. One of the things that distinguishes the Agenda 360 plan is the ambitious goal of trying to involve and align the entire community around civic betterment. This is something that being a smaller metro gets you. It really is possible to create relationships and such that span the entire region.

I previously identified extreme regional fragmentation, a city-suburb gap, and an Ohio-Kentucky gap as key problems bedeviling the region. Breaking down those barriers and building trust is a key imperative for Cincinnati to change its civic trajectory. A project like this isn’t likely to do that all by itself, but it can be a piece of the puzzle and set the right tone for how things should be done.

Speaking of setting the tone, I was very impressed with how this project transcended its roots in the business community to try to set a more inclusive process. Lots of communities have business driven civic plans, and these can be good. But in Cincinnati, where there is a lot of distrust that a handful of corporations run the place for their own benefit, it is great to see that an attempt was made to reach out to other constituencies.

So anything I say about the plan itself should be seen in the context of the overall process and the attempt to build bridges in the community. That is arguably more important for Cincinnati than any plan documents.

That’s a very good thing, because in many respects the report itself is fairly generic and does not appear, with some limited exceptions, to outline a vision and action plan that I see materially moving the needle in Cincinnati. In that regard is its not much different from the vast bulk of vision and comprehensive plans that I’ve read. For those of you reading this who aren’t in Cincinnati but want to create a community vision, the bulk of my comments here are of general applicability.

With that, here are a few observations about the plan. (Here is a link to the final report).

1. There’s very little Cincinnati in the Cincinnati agenda. I read every one of these types of plans I can get my hands on. One thing that repeatedly jumps out at me is just how similar they all are. It is the same thing with municipal comprehensive plans. This one is no exception. It is not so much that its recommendations are bad. In fact, many of them are good. But they are motherhood and apple pie statements that could be from any city.

Here is a list of some items the plans lays out for Cincinnati to do:

  • Protect and improve the environment
  • Empower neighborhood revitalization and growth
  • Enhance and connect the region’s arts and culture assets
  • Improve the system of education from birth to age 16
  • Increase college graduation
  • Create a regional transit strategy

These could have been priorities for any city anywhere. They are good and of course any community should be working on them. But they don’t tell you anything about Cincinnati. It should come as no surprise that 94% of residents surveyed agreed that “safe, proud and vibrant neighborhoods” were an important priority. (Makes you wonder who the other 6% are). Even most of the photos could be from a stock house for all that they tell you about what city you’re in.

I probably could take this document and in a day or two turn it into a report for another major city such that you’d be hard pressed to tell I’d done it. (To let you in on a “secret”, this is exactly how consulting companies work, which is why all these documents look so similar. The cost to produce a truly original report would be much higher than communities are generally willing to spend). This plan is basically an agglomeration of conventional wisdom thinking on a variety of topics.

This is a shame since Cincinnati is such an incredible city, one like no other in America. Every time I go there I am blown away by what it has. This isn’t just another American sprawlburg, it’s a place with amazing character. I’m not the only one who feels this way, as Mike Doyle’s long take shows.

Let’s think of some of these “only in Cincinnati” things.

  • The amazing legacy of being the real “Queen City” of the early 19th century, the original Porkopolis and hog butcher to the world.
  • The fantastic geography of the hills, the river, etc.
  • Its position in a tri-state region that makes it a cultural meeting place and crossing ground.
  • Amazing, dense historic neighborhoods in an architectural style unlike the rest of the Midwest
  • A patchwork quilt of lots of tiny, distinctive towns
  • Top notch high culture institutions unlike any similar sized city
  • Its unique regional culture, products, and institutions (the Charter Party, Cincinnati-style chili, Cincinnati Bell Telephone Company)
  • Far more major corporate headquarters than most any similar sized city
  • Major super-regional assets (King’s Island, IKEA, etc)

There is not another city in America in Cincy’s general size range that has anything like this. Not even close. But this stuff is almost totally missing the report.

It also raises the question: if Cincinnati has such powerful assets, why is it lagging cities that don’t have them? What fundamentally is Cincinnati’s problem? Things like jobs and an educated workforce aren’t causes, they’re effects. They are the result of what the city brings to bear on the era that it finds itself. To be more blunt, what is Cincinnati doing wrong? This is the flip side of the question and one that needs to be tackled head on.

I’ll offer one interesting hypothesis. That is, Cincinnati’s problems fundamentally derive from an over-supply of long-existing historic assets. If when I am weak, then I am strong, the reverse is also true. Assets can anchor a community strategy, but what does an anchor do? It holds you in place. The roots of Cincinnati’s problems today are in its Queen City era. This resulted in its extreme conservatism (defend what you have instead of embracing the new and getting ready for the future, living off “glory days’, etc) and its incredible aristocratic/solipsistic attitude. Add in extreme community fragmentation, most notably in the area of race relations, where Cincinnati has one of the worst situations in America, as well various other divides and you’ve basically got it covered I think.

What does Cincinnati look like in 2020? Not just, what is the conventional wisdom on what all American cities should look like, but something specific to this unique and wonderful place called Cincinnati. The report opens with “You know this is a great place to live. That’s why you’re here.” But what does that greatness reside in? When every regional city has a similar ambition list, what is going to differentiate Cincinnati? That did not come through at all to me. As I’ve long noted, this is really hard. But it is the question that needs to be answered. If Cincinnati re-energizes itself and gets on an above average growth plan and achieves the ambitions laid out, what will it look like? How does it function? What’s different?

Now, let me be fair in citing a few areas where they got it right. The first was, as I said earlier, recognizing the fragmentation of the community as a problem and starting with a process designed to start changing that. The beauty is, they didn’t just say, “Here’s what we should do”, but rather, through the process they used to create the report itself, demonstrated what the community should be doing.

Also, two of the report’s themes were Inclusion, and Government Collaboration. This is a clear recognition that by far the number one barrier to community growth in Cincinnati is poor race relations. Until this problem is fixed, until racist comments are no longer acceptable in public conversation or on air, until the black community of Cincinnati feels like they are a valued part of the community and that there is a region wide commitment that African Americans share in overall civic success, nothing will change for Cincinnati.

Let’s just pick on example: streetcars. The city wants to implement a streetcar system downtown. The local NAACP is opposing this and even made an effort to amend the city charter to ban it. This is the sort of conflict that will paralyze decision making until their is significant improvement in race relations.

Similarly, with governmental fragmentation, including three separate states in the region, and low levels of regional civic trust, better collaboration is an absolute imperative.

2. The recommendations are not operationalizable. The problem with motherhood and apple pie visions is that they don’t tell us what we should do. For example, improving education. I’ve yet to meet anyone of either party who doesn’t say this is important to the community and important to them personally. But that doesn’t rally anyone behind a program to improve it. In fact, we see election after election where the outcome is agreed to – better education for our kids – but there is fierce debate over the way to get it done. In our education example, the things the report says we should do are insufficient to call a program: “quality early-childhood education; family engagement in learning; teacher recruitment, development and retention; career pathways and responsive post-secondary systems.”

Now of course in a vision plan you don’t necessarily detail out the actions for every goal you set. For some goals, the first step is to figure out how to get there. But it certainly helps for goals like that to have an objective that is reasonably specific. Also, I don’t think that it is unreasonable to expect that for a report that bills itself as “A Regional Action Plan” that somewhere in there are the actions that we are actually supposed to take.

One of the beauties of Daniel Burham’s Plan of Chicago is just how specific it was. He said, let’s build this bridge here over Michigan Ave, with these design characteristics, in this location. He said, let’s build a civic center at Halsted and Congress. Other parts of the plan were more conceptual, but there was enough concrete stuff in there (often literally, maybe too literally – it was a public works oriented plan) so that people knew what the city should do and there could be support mobilized around it. Is Agenda 360 the type of plan you could teach kids about in school like they did Burnham’s? I don’t think so.

Again, to be fair, there are instances where this shines through. For example, one of the business growth recommendations was “Protect Air Service”. CVG is a delta hub with non-stops to Paris and many other cities. This is very unique among Midwestern cities its size. The report cites the companies that located there for access to this air service. This is a way to create a unique advantage. Cincinnati is going to try to preserve its unique level of air service and use that as an economic development tool to lure businesses for which that is a requirement. Indianapolis and Columbus won’t be able to compete as easily.

Another example was in fact very Burnham-like: “Replace the Brent Spence Bridge”. Bam. There you go. And another good one was to become a national center in diabetes/obesity and cancer programs. The rest of the plan should have been full of strategies like these two.

3. The grow business recommendations did not have sufficient depth and strategic focus. Guess what the emerging business clusters for Cincinnati will be? You guessed it, advanced energy, information technology, and life sciences, exactly like every other city it competes with. Its fourth sector is “consumer products and creative services”, but hasn’t P&G and its vaunted marketing group been around forever? That should have more appropriately been put into its legacy clusters area. And the legacy clusters themselves appear to be more location quotient drive (i.e., based on having a greater than average employment base in an industry) rather than functioning as a Silicon Valley like cluster (i.e., based on synergy and the whole being greater than the sum of its parts and/or generating continuous innovation and new firms).

If Cincinnati is going to compete in the life sciences game, why is it going to win over every other place that is also staking its future on that industry? What segments will Cincinnati win in? Life sciences is actually the best one from this plan, because they give some examples. Again, the diabetes and cancer examples come to mind. And they want to have a world class health center, perhaps indicating a specialty on the treatment side. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is one of America’s absolute best, so perhaps pediatrics is an area.

I was surprised not to see was anything about taxation or regulatory structures, typically among the most prominent elements in business location decisions. Was Cincinnati’s business climate benchmarked against others? And what did it show? Where is Cincinnati uniquely good or bad? How to leverage or correct?

Also, there are big problems throughout the Midwest around creating an entrepreneurial and risk taking culture. In the Midwest people often work to live, not live to work. They want to work normal hours and spend time with friends and family. The easy pace of life is a key part of its appeal. But in other places people are more ambitious to get rich or change the world. They are hungrier. If the Midwest wants to compete, it needs to change the culture. I don’t know Cincinnati well enough to say for sure, but it seems to me that its conservatism and domination by large corporate employers might encourage a “civil service” mindset among people, where the sought out positions are staff roles in large companies where you can work out your days until a comfortable retirement instead of risking all your chips on Red-14 by starting a company.

The report notes the disproportionate presence of Fortune 500 companies (Cincy is a top ten city for them) and below average job growth in the same passage, but fails to make the connection between the two. Fortune 500 companies are largely not generators of employment, but their employment characteristics can suck up the best and brightest who might otherwise be starting the small businesses that are the growth engines of tomorrow. It’s like France where everyone dreams of being a fonctionnaire. The idea that economic success equals large megalithic employers is yesterday’s economic model. That’s true as much for the office as it is for the manufacturing plant. Today’s knowledge intensive industries and clusters are made up of networks of smaller firms, often orchestrated across the globe. This is where Cincinnati is missing out. (Again, let me be fair and point out that the report makes one suggestion that is right on point here: looking for opportunities to spin-off other businesses from these large employers)

Changing the culture – not a revolutionary change in the character of a people, but an evolutionary change – has to be a be a part of any solution in any Midwestern city.

4. The goals in the plan are problematic. The challenge with non-specific goals is how to know if we got there. What does success look it? The press release announcing the report site out three regional goals to achieve by 2020:

  • Add an additional 150,000 20-34 year old to the work force
  • Add 200,000 net jobs to the region, a 50% growth in the historical growth rate
  • Create economic self-sufficiency for all, with household income at a level 250% of the federal poverty rate.

The first question that comes to mind is whether or not these are attainable in any possible scenario. The idea of self-sufficiency for “all” is clearly not achievable. I’m not certain what Cincy needs to change in its demographic trends to achieve the first, but it seems rather high considering that the entire metro area is only adding people at a run rate of about 110,000 people per decade. This study seems to imply growth rate in 20-34 years olds in the next decade 50% greater than total population growth in this one. Also, the problem with increasing job growth by 50% is the ramp up period. With only ten years of runway, if you don’t hit your numbers in the first couple, the logistics of hitting the end target become daunting.

I believe in stretch goals. If the community doesn’t fail to achieve some of its goals, it clearly didn’t aim high enough. It’s like my one buddy used to say, “If I don’t miss a flight every other month, I’m spending too much time in airports”. However, if you set goals that are clearly out of reach, you can end up like the EU’s Lisbon Agenda.

Also, I like the overall outcome based goals – a lot – but I’d like to see program level goals added as well to complement them. That’s the beauty of specific actions. For example, if you want to replace the Brent Spence Bridge, you can just look out your window to see if you did it. If your goal is to be “recognized as one of the Top 5 consumer marketing regions in the world.” you can probably figure out a way to measure that. (I’d argue Cincy is already close to there in reality).

Possibly this report just doesn’t connect with me because its organization and text focuses on the motherhood and apple pie aspects rather than the concrete and tangible parts of “Here is where we want to go; here is what we want to do; here is how we’ll measure it”. Most of the best parts were seemingly throwaway lines like that Top 5 consumer marketing region one. But that is arguably the strongest goal in the whole thing.

To summarize, I this plan needs to be much more specific about Cincinnati as a unique American city (which it is), be more specific in the actions that need to be taken, fill in the gaps, and tighten up the measurements.

The idea of a civic plan is one that I’ve thought a bit about. Developing my idea of what a 21st century civic plan should look like is something I’ve been working on a long time. One of my handful of dream jobs would be to have someone hire me to lead the development of such a plan. For a city the size of Cincinnati, however, I estimate this would probably take about three years and cost a few million bucks. Not cheap or easy to pull off. I don’t know how much time I’ll devote to this or not, but perhaps over the comings months I’ll add some additional postings about what such a plan might look like. In the meantime, you might want to read my piece, “What is a Strategy?

Since I spent a lot of ink discussing the shortcomings of this plan, I should wrap up by once again highlighting what they got right. The first is recognizing Inclusion and Government Collaboration as community imperatives. There is nothing more important for Cincinnati. The second was the extremely wide net they cast to try to involve the community at large in this plan. I have never seen anything so extensive done. Listen to some of it.

“Achieving demographic representation was an important goal of the community engagement meetings, and the effort resulted in a tour of the region’s rich diversity. Meetings were held with Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities, Hamilton County Health and Human Services executives, people of Appalachian origin, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce members, Jewish Federation board members, Service Workers International Union members and Urban League job training participants. More than 80 people who are homeless participated in a meeting at Christ Church Cathedral’s 5000 club weekly dinner. Meetings were hosted with high school students, college students and young professionals.”

Wow. That’s very broad. In fact, it is broader than I have ever seen before. That is extremely commendable. Again, it’s not just talking the talk, it’s walking the walk. You can’t say you need an inclusive community if the process that develops that recommendation is not inclusive. This process, dialog, and bridge building are more important for a place like Cincinnati than any plan that comes from it.

Perhaps that also explains the motherhood and apple pie nature of the plan. To develop a common vision across that many groups requires a certain amount of least common denominator thinking, at least to start. In light of the importance of inclusion – which is again, public issue #1 for Cincinnati – perhaps showing people that they can collaborate on something, agree on something, is more important than what they agree on. If this proceeds and leads to the place it needs to for Cincinnati, then anything else that comes out of the plan is icing on the cake.

If you are in Cincinnati and are not a regular reader of this blog, I suggest the following articles will provide more insight. I have written multiple times on the unique character and brand promise of Indianapolis. That should illustrate some ideas on how to put more Cincinnati in the plan:

The Brand Promise of Indianapolis
Our Product is Better than Our Brand

I also gave similar suggestions to Chicago in a posting call “A Declaration of Independence

And my previous take on Cincinnati after a visit last year is in my posting, “A Midwest Conundrum“.

Topics: Economic Development, Public Policy, Regionalism, Strategic Planning
Cities: Cincinnati

16 Responses to “Cincinnati: Agenda 360”

  1. Alon Levy says:

    Good writeup, but I don’t get your point about air hubs being unique. Cleveland is a growing Continental Hub, Detroit and Minneapolis are hubs for Northwest, and St. Louis is a hub for American. This hasn’t stopped Detroit or Cleveland from being massive exporters of people.

  2. JG says:

    I tend to agree with criticism regarding the general broad brush-stroke approach Cincinnati took to the Agenda 360 proposal. Certainly an adaptable framework in any plan must be in place first, but a healthly degree of specificity must be included. I am reminded of the recent GOP federal budget proposal that was a 19 page outline – it was a necessary first step but terribly embarrassing and worthless until the details are included. A few suggestions for INDY along these lines:

    Cincinnati was smart to identify areas in life sciences they wanted to pursue: diabetes and cancer. The IU School of Medicine has a very well respected institute called Regenstrief that for around 40 years has pioneered research in health care information technology, specifically electronic medical records (EMR.) This should be used to start a health IT industry in the area. Also, it could spur development downtown in the NW quadrant near Clarian with a highly educated creative class (hopefully bringing immigrants, domestic and foreign.) EMR is a growing field.

    Rail freight transport is growing even with the recession, and our city and state should use our geographical location to our advantage. Chicago is under an enormous burden of trains passing through daily often times from the West to East with little business to do in Chicago. Indianapolis could create business and jobs by improving what was an extensive rail network, and absorb some of this traffic. CSX recently made such improvements in the area. Potentially this could be done with federal and private funds, with little financial burden to the city.

    My final suggestion for INDY is to create a destination city in the North for African Americans, both families and singles. With Circle City Classic and the Black Expo I think there is an opportunity to rebuild traditional African American neighborhoods with migration, and even more important diverse neighborhoods that African Americans want to live in. (Some parts of the city are still very unwelcoming.) I am primarily thinking about Center township, since this is still where most of the city’s AA population lives, but Warren, Lawrence, and Washington townships all have large AA populations and could use an influx of new great neighbors. Does anyone think this in particular is a good strategy? Specifics?

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Re: race, I don’t think just having centers of black culture is enough. If all you have a segregated black middle class, you wind up looking like DeKalb County, Georgia, or Prince George’s County, Maryland. These aren’t bad places to live in, but they’re far from the richest parts of their metro areas. They lure the rising black middle class from the local ghettos, but they don’t help the central city outgrow its racial tensions; Washington and Atlanta are in fact the only two major cities in the US where the white/black ratio of the population is increasing, suggesting black people aren’t choosing to live there.

    A better way of reducing racial tension is, for lack of better phrasing, actually reducing racial tension. This means doing more community policing, engaging in neighborhood integration initiatives, and cracking down on employment discrimination. You can’t expect educated blacks to move in if there are jobs they can’t get.

  4. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Alon, it’s not so much that I think the air hub approach is the greatest thing ever, but that it is a concrete, tangible recommendation of what the city is going to do to to compete for business. It is a bet the city is making. Time will tell if it pays off.

    JG, if you talk to Biocrossroads, they would likely tell you they are already doing this. Indianapolis used to be a rail hub, but isn’t anymore. There is only one mainline running through town, and one serious rail yard.

  5. JG says:

    Thanks guys for the comments/feedback. I follow Biocrossroads and truly should have mentioned them in my comments. They have a program called Health Information Exchange for sharing of medical records within the state – leading to cost benefits – it’s a great program that is 15 years overdue. They are actively seeking funds from the stimulus packages. This could position INDY as the center in US for health IT research, and these efforts attract new IT business to the area.

    I am aware CSX is the only major line running through INDY. For that reason, could capacity along CSX’s line be increased, or other local lines converted, to accept some of the traffic Chicago gets? It is becoming a very big probably in delays and safety for the network. I should have been more specific in that I do not see this as defining industry for INDY, but one where the city could position itself to meet increasing demand and create work.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Great post. Like you, I’m interested in these plans and am growing tired of bland vision statements instead of location-specific measurable outcomes.

    I’m curious to know what you think of New York’s Plan NYC 2030:

  7. JG says:

    Anon 12:41 – There has been program on PBS recently about the NYC park system and they referred to the PLANYC 2030. I too was hoping our HOST would review this if time permitted. The plan appears to be broad but mentions several specific projects. I definitely will be reading this when I have more time.

  8. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 12:41, I have not read the New York plan. I’d like to do so if I find the time. I’ll try to post something if I do.

  9. CARR says:

    Ciny, Race relation and conservatism.

    Although I don’t live in Ciny I have visited the Queen City quite a bit and I think you hit the nail on the head. The tension between the races in Cincy is just unbelievable. It’s like one of my friends, who was born in Ciny, said “It’s the Birmingham of the Midwest.”

    He was all to happy to move out of Cincy as soon as he got the chance. I can see why. I have been harassed by the police on a couple of trips there.

    If Cincy really wants to take the next step then it has to address these problems first. I just don’t think the city can do it. Cincy is a very conservative city. If Cincy is really serious about moving into the 21st century then it’s going to have alter its personality. It can’t be as conservative as it has been.

    If things are going to change it’s going to have be the “city” that extends it’s hands out to the minority community. The establishment is going to have to show that it cares about what happens to its minority citizens. If that happens on a consistent basis I think you will see things change for the better.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Interesting thoughts on why Cincy hasn’t prospered. I’m wondering if there’s a correlation here: Republican/conservative governance = less success over time.

    Cities that support this thesis: Austin, Denver, Portland, Chicago, etc.

    Of course, there are others that don’t, but I’ll leave it at that.

  11. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 11:54, Mike Mallory, the current mayor, is a Democrat, as were the five mayors before him (and so way Jerry Springer back in the 70’s!)

    Until recently, Cincinnati had a council-manager form of government, with a mostly ceremonial mayor who was the top vote getter on the city council.

    The point being, party is not the problem in Cincinnati, as it rarely is elsewhere.

  12. Radarman says:

    I’ve said it before, Urbanophile. That long period of non-partisan, strong city manager government pretty much destroyed the kind of day to day politics on which responsive government is built. The Charter movement yanked power away from wards and ward politicians and put it in the hands of businesspeople. The recent efforts to restore a stronger mayoralty are starting to have a good effect on partisan politics, but there is a long way to go.

    Less obvious as a problem of governance is the long ascendency of the westside, largely German catholic parishes, only recently weakened by racial turnover. The conservative – make that timid – streak of which the city seemed so proud, had much to do with the ingrown parochial education system which, like the Charter effect on retail politics, is just now beginning to unravel.

    As to the generic, cheerleading quality of the 360 report, that is what our Chamber of Commerce does. It would have been nice to see the University of Cincinnati in the lead rather than the Chamber. One day, perhaps.

  13. justforview says:

    I thought I would provide some additional perspective on the Agenda 360 process.

    I attended a session held in the winter of 2008 at the Niehoff Studio, which is partly a community design center and partly a urban design studio as part of the University of Cincinnati’s architecture and planning programs.

    As a graduate planning student I was very interested to participate, but skeptical of the basis for the study. Most of the other participants were graduate architecture students and undergraduate planning students. There was a small amount of community members as well.

    The event was facilitated by a group of volunteers that were primarily part of a young professional organization who had no training in planning or architecture. This made for a unique dynamic that felt like a bit of a role reversal.

    Not that all of the students were in agreement or enlightened as to what the city needed to be successful, but they had been exposed to critical thinking about the city and it functioning, or lack thereof.

    The process was very well organized and ran pretty efficiently and was only slightly derailed by those who wanted to engage in conversation with a bit more depth. We were put into small groups of 5 or so people with 1 or two facilitators. Generally, we were asked to come up with strengths and weaknesses and come to some consensus about what the priorities in the city should be. It was all made more interesting by handing out Agenda 360 monopoly money that individuals had to allocate to what we thought worthy.

    I too commend the efforts of the group and the intentions of the plan, but walked away feeling increased skepticism about plans like this. While the process does help to generate discussion about some serious issues the forum was far from diverse.

    Holding these meetings in communities doesn’t really generate inter-community dialogue. It doesn’t begin to triangulate the perspectives of others in order to generate mutual understanding. In some ways it further alienates communities by almost reinforcing their values rather than exposing them to other’s.

    Really the Agenda 360 plan amounts to a super-sized SWOT analysis. The sample population is large, but you still need to find the lowest common denominator at some point.

    In cities such as Cincinnati, where their is such great and important differences between populations, it seems unreasonable to ask a region to come to some common vision. The multiplicity, that should be valued, just doesn’t allow for it. I am not saying that visioning and planning in general aren’t worthwhile endeavors, but the scale and objectives should be reasonable.

  14. Alon Levy says:

    CARR, Anon: Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Columbus are all fairly conservative, though Cincinnati is more so than the other two. In contrast, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis are more liberal.

    In truth, it doesn’t matter much how liberal a city is nowadays. For US metro areas, liberalism tends to follow a long history as a successful city, since older cities are likelier to need more government spending on maintenance and have more resentment toward the upper class.

  15. The Urbanophile says:

    justforview – thanks for sharing your insights from behind the scenes. I agree that you need to tailor strategies to different communities. However, I do believe it is critical that we create some sort of shared vision, even if a small one, or we can’t be said to properly have a community. As your comment makes clear, however, it’s not easy.

  16. Anonymous says:

    11:54 here. Aaron, I’m wondering if you’re being a little dismissive of the political hypothesis. I just looked a list of mayors for Cincy over the last 100 years, and there have been plenty of conservatives. Of course, the relevant variable (if they had a council-manager governance) was the total political make-up of the city council. Here’s the causal mechanism: conservative city government leaders tend to support certain programs and oppose others–over the long haul, these choices add up (path dependence analysis) and may lead to less success. Witness Houston, with their choices to forego most zoning. Of course, contra Carmel, where the conservative mayor is making decidely liberal choices re new programs. Look, I’m not sure if this is correct, but the hypo is worth a correlation analysis or two before rejecting.

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