When we do a Curbside Chat, a workshop or some other type of event in a community, the reaction that I get is fairly consistent. People tell me that the information I shared was mind-blowing, completely relevant to their place and that, while they couldn’t put it into words, they have understood the core problems I outline for a long, long time.
The only place I’m not getting that last bit is from my recent visit to Arkansas. I hadn’t been to Arkansas since I was really young and, unfortunately, my first election that I was eligible to vote was 1992. Having not voted for a Democrat then or since (and don’t assume I vote all Republican please), the following eight years filled with hillbilly jokes molded a fleeting impression I had of the state into some very low expectations.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. For a person who has visited lots of this country – and not just the touristy parts but the underbelly I get treated to professionally – I was really impressed with northwestern Arkansas and, in particular, Fayetteville. And not just impressed with what they are physically doing on the ground but even more blown away with the really thoughtful and active community dialog I was dropped into the middle of.
It is a hard thing to describe so I’m fortunate to have one great news article covering the event and another even better editorial that captured the essence of the conversation. Read the entire thing, but I’m going to give you some quotes.
It would have been easy to be offended or excited at his precisely targeted critiques, except that Marohn’s notes were specific to the Fort Smith area only because the Fort Smith area is just one of thousands – if not more – U.S. municipalities doing things the wrong way.
The editorial went on to talk about some local issues and lament the direction the local conversation had gone on two big projects, both on the periphery of the community. I love how they brought the conversation back to what really matters:
Any broad discussion of urban sprawl deflects from the point Marohn was trying to make, which is that taxpayer support of private development and/or public infrastructure, whether across the street or outside a territorial jurisdiction, receive a rational review to determine the relationship between upfront benefits and future ancillary impacts on a municipal budget.
And finally, here’s the kind of logic I ran into in Arkansas, which left me really optimistic that they got it.
It’s math. It’s short-term and long-term budgetary math. It’s math that allows us to avoid emotion resulting in a decision that may be popular and easy on the front end, but costly and potentially cumbersome for future residents and leaders.
As I left town, there was a little bit of buzz around the people I had met that they really wanted to get me back for more conversation and to put some of these ideas into action. I’m really enthused about that possibility because, I’m happy to say, I really like Arkansas.