The following article by Strong Towns member, Tim Wright was originally published on Heliopolis Shreveport and the Re:Form Shreveport website.


A few years ago, I wrote a piece for Shreveport, Louisiana's news site, Heliopolisbased on a simple concept: Shreveport is a person and possesses a distinct identity, so how we make decisions about our future should be based in an understanding of that identity. I’d like to continue to explore that comparison between person and city. And I’d like to do so through a popular leadership book you may have read before.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey categorizes decisions by two descriptors: importance and urgency. These two descriptors make for four types of decisions shown in the diagram below:

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Covey’s point is that highly effective people focus on spending their time in Quadrant II. This includes building relationships, long range planning, and preparation. By doing so, we are able to avoid interruptions and distractions, and proactively avoid crises. Most importantly though, time spent in Quadrant II further improves our ability to understand what is truly important. It’s the feedback loop we want to see.

Covey’s other point is that spending too much time in Quadrant I often holds us back. These are the things that both important and require immediate attention. But why wouldn’t we be spending time on things that are important, both urgent and non-urgent? Urgency is deceiving. It makes every decision seem like an important one. Every issue becomes a big issue. Values become buzzwords. We lose the ability to be proactive, and can only be reactive.

A little while ago, I made a choice to start saying no to things. In order to reach my goal — to spend two evenings a workweek to myself — I’ve had to say no to good things, to important things. I made that choice for the good of myself and my personal health, and for my future. And I’m the better for it. I have a clearer vision of what I should be doing, and what I should be saying yes to. The urgent may still be present, but I have a better framework from which to approach the urgent.

Enter the Cross Bayou Project, the most urgent issue on Shreveport’s mind a few months back and still quite pressing today. Contrary to what you may expect, I’m not here to give my opinion on the proposed Pelican’s G-League arena. After seeing the plans in person, I was more positive than I expected but still had lots of questions. And while I continued to do my research on the project, I couldn’t tell you for certain that the Mayor or Pelicans owner are simply acting according to self interest at the expense of Shreveport. I can’t tell you for certain how an arena on Cross Bayou would fare. My point is bigger than this issue.

What I can tell you for certain is that the amount of time we spend in the important and urgent, making rushed decisions is unhealthy. Our cities are often prone to being reactive, not proactive. It takes a consent decree, a water billing lawsuit, an uptick in crime for us to respond to the issues that matter most. It takes crises for us to start paying attention.

And now, in arguably one of the largest proposed commercial developments since the casinos, the mayor’s office has been expected to respond and weigh all the pros and cons in the span of a few months. The public and city council is expected to do the same in the span of a few weeks. Regardless of the specific circumstances surrounding this particular project, this is not enough time to fully vet all the aspects of a project like this.

While mixed-use development, economic development, and entertainment are all important, no city can expect to make good decisions on such short notice, no matter how competitive such a project might be. We owe it to ourselves to be more measured, more detail-oriented, and more demanding for such a large development like this.

The other thing I can tell you for certain is where the real future of our city lies. It’s with the people that, as one spiritual author put it, show “a long obedience in the same direction”. Some of them are in our local government, while most of them are outside of it.

I hope you know who those people are in the community, and if you’re reading this you may already be of the one percent. Maybe we can make that number two percent. After this urgent issue dies down, don’t forget to keep investing in those people who are going to be important for 10, 20, or even 30 years to come – or become one yourself.

I’m weary of the urgent in my personal life, I’m wary of the urgent in Shreveport’s public life, and I think you should be too.

(Top photo source: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Michele G. Misiano)