Both sides happy

Both sides happy - image for article by Greg Alder

Every street, every town, every country has 2 kinds of people. Those who want progress and those who don’t.

The progressives reckon the antiprogressives cripple economic development. The antiprogressives reckon the progressives ruin the place.

Progress is a battle.

Preservation is a battle.

Every architect commissioned to enlarge a house has to choose whether to remain faithful to the home’s current design cues or make the extension radically different. Will the new house boisterously assert its individuality from the footpath? Or will the extension be a hidden surprise?

On viewing the plans, some neighbours argue that the new house will destroy the street’s visual integrity. Others reckon the radical design is exactly the shot in the arm that the place needs to jolt it out of its beigeness.

In communities around the world, every town planner and every economic development manager wrestles with what seem like mutually exclusive tasks of growing the local economy and preserving the lifestyle that locals love.

When the antiprogressives protest that they want their town to stay exactly as it is, their Exhibit A will a neighbouring town ruined by an industrial estate, or housing estate or both.

When the progressives argue the need to grow, their Exhibit B will be a neighbouring town that’s dying along with its ageing community.

Is there a solution that keeps both sides happy?

There is. And it takes just 2 factors to become reality.

The first thing needed is vision.

Every town is a brand. Like all brands, a town needs to attract people – to visit, to live, to spend, to invest, to employ. The strongest brands are driven by strong visions.

Very few towns have a vision. Steve Jobs had a vision. His vision was to put a dent in the universe. His vision had no end point. It wasn’t a 5-year plan. His vision was grand. Audacious. Crazy.

When Steve Jobs died, too young, he might not have put a dent in the universe, but he’d made an impact on one of its planets.

So why can’t a town have a vision to make an impact on this planet? Why can’t a town have ambitions far beyond its size? Beyond its catchment area?

Vision isn’t always easy to define. Our natural tendency is to think too small.

With expert guidance, thought leaders in a town can create a striking vision that is limitless, enduring and scalable. In turn, this vision will influence how the town markets itself. It will influence the services the town offers in the future. It will positively influence how locals feel about their town. And how people around the world feel about the town – even if they’ve never been there.

The second thing a town needs is creativity. Creativity leads to ideas. Ideas become innovations. Innovations enhance a brand’s value. The world’s most innovative brands are also the world’s most financially successful ones. Creativity will give a town’s thought leaders unexpected and original ideas that will dramatically enhance the town’s economy.

The reason antiprogressives fear progress is they associate it with industry. They envision a sprawl of low factory roofs and an influx of unskilled labourers.

With creativity, a town will have dozens of ideas that will deliver growth, but without the attendant manufacturing sprawl.

In fact, creativity itself could become the town’s brand. There’s nothing to stop a town of 10,000 at the bottom of the world becoming a creative hub and leading centre of innovation.

Oxford, Cambridge and Boston are three town brands built on education. Education has become a major export earner for each. Education and research go hand in hand. Research and innovation also go hand in hand.

Today, Boston’s brand is built as much on innovation as it is on education.

Innovation leads to intellectual property. Intellectual property creates prosperity. Intellectual property doesn’t need a factory. Intellectual property doesn’t spoil the landscape.

There are a few things that creativity has been proven to do. Creativity boosts productivity. Creativity adds to personal happiness and fulfilment. Creativity reduces sick leave, absenteeism and presenteeism.

What town wouldn’t want to be more prosperous, more productive and happier?

Got vision? Got creativity? Then you’ve got a future that will keep both sides happy.

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