I hope 2017 is off to a great start for you. It’s off to the same start as always for some cities, which don’t really care if they thrive or not. The people who live there will tell you they are concerned with the next hour, the next task, the next party. These cities tend to play defense. They react. They do not recruit new residents or young professionals, so there is little point in branding and messaging to those demographics. If the internal quality of life improves, great, but if not that’s fine, too.
I’m sure this will go over well in today’s culture.
Cities that want to thrive now and in the future – and all indications are that the majority of Decatur supports that direction – have to play offense. Offense is, by its nature, disruptive. It’s innovative. It respects what works now but discards what doesn’t. It requires sacrifice. It’s often uncomfortable. And it’s the only way to grow.
Before addressing what “playing offense” could practically mean, there’s a threshold question you must answer for yourself: Do I truly care if Decatur thrives for the next 100 years?
Disruption isn’t like the status quo. It’s disruptive.
Yes: You’re probably thinking in terms of undertaking and investing in new and different activities to strengthen Decatur.
No: You can support the status quo and not worry about adding to it.
In that context, here’s what “playing offense” could look like, and note that we are already moving the ball down the field on several of these fronts:
Infrastructure: We invest in our streets, green spaces, and other public areas. They’re well-maintained, upscale, understated, classy.
Beautification: Great cities look great. We have to make sure every entryway to the city announces that you’re entering a place you should want to be and emphasizes what’s unique about us. Entryways are a city’s first date with future potential residents – we need to make the best impression possible. And we need to use signage, social media, neighborhood captains, and other levers to demand cleanliness and take personal responsibility for keeping our city clean.
Entrance to the city of Digha in East Medinipur
Messaging: Decatur may be the only city in the country that has been named a top destination for young professional engineers (and I’d argue STEM employees in general) and retirees, two demographics who add huge value to communities. Meanwhile, we’re rapidly advancing or established on multiple fronts that both demographics value – arts, outdoors, cost of living, pace of life, opportunity to build relationships, nonprofit networks, access to jobs, proximity to multiple major cities, etc. How can we translate the narrative of what’s happening into a powerful message that emphasizes the developments that make Decatur unique?
Real Estate: We need to identify key pieces of real estate and do everything possible to make sure that we have the opportunity to execute attractive developments when those opportunities arise.
Internal Quality of Life: Let’s do all we can to establish a walking/biking community, to support a vibrant Downtown, and to encourage efforts like the Cook Museum that change the game. Let’s make sure that institutions occupying a place in our history, like The Princess, are positioned to move the needle. Let’s be creative and offer attractions you can’t find in other cities and keep pushing all the momentum we have on the arts and outdoors fronts. Think of Chattanooga before the building of the Tennessee Aquarium, then consider that we also have an Arts College, Downtown residential, and numerous other developments underway.
Is Decatur on the cusp of our Aquarium Moment?
Economic Competitiveness: We have to be the best place in the world to start, grow, or relocate a business. That means training a modern workforce inside and outside of our schools, making it easy and less expensive to do business here from a regulatory standpoint, leveraging key drivers like the Robotics and Technology Park, attracting talented young professionals through the Best and Brightest Initiative and other programs, and making a meaningful run at cultivating a startup culture. We also have to be a community that gets along – if your community is on fire, you’re not going to attract today’s and tomorrow’s highly coveted employers.
Communities learn to live together before they prosper, not the other way around
Of course the question will come, “Where do we get the money?” First, we should do the hard work of creating initiatives that yield solid ROI before we seek any money. Secondly, we need to seek cost-effective solutions and leverage the resources we already have. Thirdly, we need to acknowledge that we are already spending and investing money in support of our city. The question is, should we begin to allocate more of our existing capital to growth-focused initiatives? We should do so if we want to build a Decatur that thrives for the next 100 years.
We have to be bold and aggressive about pursuing our priorities. That means encouraging other individuals and institutions to take smart, calculated risks that have a lot of upside. It means understanding that not every initiative will produce instant results. Most of all, though, it means accepting that the process of creative destruction, whereby we break ourselves down in order to build ourselves up, is the only means by which we will grow and, ultimately, prosper. Friends, it’s time to play offense.
Thank you to Joel McWhorter for suggesting the “Playing Offense” theme for this Super Bowl week. In order to make sure this blog does everything possible to address the most important questions, I will say as a loyal Steelers fan that you have to go with Brady and Belichick in the Super Bowl. Patriots return to the top, and 2017 is a great one for Hugh Long and family.