Thursday, October 14th, 2010
I can’t tell you how many economic development documents I’ve read that talk about cities “building on assets” or cataloging all the great assets a city says. While inventorying your assets is an obvious and valuable thing to do, cities are often far too enamored of what they find there.
Assets can be building blocks for the new, but can also be simply the legacy of the past, not the foundation for the future. The only reason cities have most of their assets today is because previous generations didn’t try to build on the assets of their day – they went out and created something new. All too often “building on assets” turns into “defending the past”, as cities and states try to protect the industries and ways of doing business that worked in the days of yesteryear, but are failed strategies for the new economy.
Most assets require significant investment to maintain over time. So you’ve got to make a choice of how much to sink into that versus building new. Too often cities get the balance wrong and innovator’s dilemma style end up over optimizing for the past. When the world changes, they are no longer relevant.
Clearly, an asset-led strategy is an important part of a city’s development approach. But it’s only a part. It’s not just about building on what we inherited from previous generations, but creating brand new things to bequeath to tomorrow.
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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.