Neighborhoods First: For Elected Officials

This week we’ve focused on the Neighborhoods First report. Today I want to talk directly to local officials, those that are elected by their neighbors to represent them at city hall, about how the Neighborhoods First approach will help them be more effective.

You ran for office to change things, to make the world a better place. You likely came to your current position with grand visions and expectations, the surge of campaign enthusiasm affirming an idealistic view of what you could accomplish. Those were the days.

Now you’ve been in office and you know that local government is messy. All those things you wanted to get done now take a back seat to the daily grind of managing a complex city. There’s two neighbors fighting over where one of them is placing their dumpster. That took hours of your time you’ll never get back. Then there’s that business owner who is tied up with the zoning department over a sign permit. Who can really understand all those zoning regulations anyway?

And of course, you have a deep ache over the huge sewer/water extension project, a massive project that you’re not enthusiastic about but which you feel compelled to support. After all, staff has been working on this for years. The state and federal politicians are all lined up with grant funding and you don’t want to damage those relationships. The local chamber and economic development presidents are supporting it along with your city administrator and professional staff. With the public clamoring for jobs and growth, and since the vast majority of the cost is being paid by federal and state sources, what is to be gained by opposing it?

But still, it is not what you would do given the opportunity. You’re more than a little disgusted by all the time and effort you need to spend on things you are not enthusiastic about. Your priorities are different. And you’re in office. If you don’t you have the opportunity to do something different, who will?

Neighborhoods First represents an alternative approach.

Sick of being the tail end of someone else’s big project process? Want to get something done right now? By focusing on small, incremental neighborhood projects, you can not only make positive progress right now but you can directly benefit the constituents that elected you.

What is more tangible for your voters: that multi-million dollar road improvement on the edge of town or the $20,000 sidewalk improvement that gives them an alternative to walking through the ditch?

Which will have a greater immediate impact on the lives of your constituents: that mega project you traveled down to the state capital to testify on (another in a long line of similar gambles) or spending $6,000 to build a bike lane connecting their neighborhood to the grocery store?

If you want to be the public official who gets things done, the one who is loved by their constituents for not only making things happen and improving their lives but also for being financially prudent and savvy with their money and tangibly improving the community’s wealth and prosperity, you need approach we used in the Neighborhoods First report.

Small, incremental investments over a long period of time. High return investments that build community wealth and prosperity. This is how we build strong towns.

(Top photo by David Shankbone)

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