Saturday, February 26, 2005

Talking Community Economic Development...

Discussion, rumours, even hearsay regarding community development reoccurs in our community in cycles. Nevertheless, it's substance has a tendency to leave us dumbfounded. Community economic development will always be an important issue to those communities that struggle economically and struggle with population growth. Work, the education that precedes it, and the socialization by our consumer culture to buy stuff are central tenets of our living. The economy as a social institution is primary to our existence in the westernized, global economy.

I would suggest that for the average Owensboro citizen community economic development is a frustrating notion of which most people feel they have no control. Most of us feel we are at the whims of those making decisions, and that our jobs and job opportunities are dependent on what "they" decide for "us".

Our local economy has passed through a wood chipper of change over the past two decades. We have moved from a tobacco based economy to a retail based economy, thus losing a strong foundation of economic activity and local market strength which supported jobs and a stable household income.
Do you, like I, sense that our community needs to fish or cut bait?

A recent article in the Messenger Inquirer illustrates the ongoing need to address community economic development. Jumping into those discussions without something to buoy our ideas and suggestions on improving the economic plight of our community would result in another vein, quick fix attempt to remedy a problem that has deep roots. We can decide to direct our course as this wave of change sweeps us up. Or, we can sit passively and let it take us wherever it is for us to go. If we are passive, we could very well end up in troubled waters.

To gain perspective on the direction that our community should take regarding community economic development, it is important to provide a foundation from which we can brainstorm and ultimately set forth a course of action for our community.

The traditional approach to community economic development has been to focus on human capital. Patrick Fitzsimmons provides a brief overview of this perspective on economic development.. Here, human capital is defined as the skills and knowledge that local citizens have to bring to the labor force. Do people in the local community have the education and knowledge base to perform the jobs in the community? Given the level of income and standard of living that people want to achieve, are the skills and education present with the people to attract the jobs that will meet these expectations? Our community approach has been in the form of brain gain initiatives(looking outward) and on increasing the education level and work skills of the local population (looking inward). Human capital theory suggests that a growing population forces the economy to grow, increasing the number of jobs, and increasing the amount of economic activity occurring in those communities.

An approach that has received critical acclaim is the social capital theory. Robert Putnam's New York Times Bestseller "Bowling Alone" has been tagged as best illustrating the dynamics to this approach. Social capital focuses on the linkages that individuals have to others through civic activity. Volunteer work and work that promotes the ties that bind citizens together serves as a fundamental basis for intra-neighborhood alliances, replicated across communities and between communities. Putnam has built on this work and continues to provide critical analysis of the role of civic life in community living. Much has occurred in Owensboro-Daviess County to promote civic capital, as is evidenced by the work of groups such as Community Conversations, the Public Life Foundation, and the Neighborhood Alliances. Community and economic development may or may not have been the intent or mission of these groups, but their work is an example of how providing opportunities for citizens to connect with neighbors and community institutions promote involvement, engagement, and buy in to those activities that make communities work.

The last perspective that has gained increasing popularity is the creative class theory championed by Richard Florida and illustrated in his work "The Rise of the Creative Class". Florida and his colleagues were able to identify the most successful communities by their capacity to achieve the greatest increase in economic development. (In terms of state's, Florida's group ranked Kentucky 45th out of 50.) Florida aptly illustrates how community economic development has been highly positive in those communities that he considers creative. Such communities possess higher rates of creative occupations, requiring employees to create meaningful new forms. These communities have knowledge based occupations ranging from scientists and engineers to writers and actors. For Owensboro, the caveat of this approach is that traditional notions of what it means to be a close, cohesive community and society tend to inhibit economic growth and innovation. If we were to follow the creative class theory to community economic development, would it mean that we need to encourage locals to not attend church, seek divorce, and become the individual that their creativity inspires?

Where do we go from here?

The most important effort we can do at this time is to simply have the conversation. We do not have to appropriate thousands of taxpayer dollars to any particular initiative. In fact, that may indeed be low on the priority list if we were to establish a sincere strategic plan to achieve development through the approach designed to achieve the greatest results in the 21st century: by promoting creativity. Individuals considered part of the creative class are not necessarily looking for a big payoff in the form of a salary. They are looking for a place to develop themselves, to engage in creative activity, and to live fulfilling lives.

In the spring of 2003, 47 cities convened in Memphis, Tennessee to hammer out a blueprint for communities looking to become creative, and looking to further enhance community economic development in the 21st century. The outcome product of that event was the Memphis Manifesto.

Utilizing their expertise, let us examine some potential avenues of growth for Owensboro by building on their principles, and by linking our past to our present, and ultimately our future. Below I comment on the Manifesto principles, and ask questions where we appear to currently be lacking.

1. Cultivate and Reward Creativity. Do we recognize the new economy, the knowledge based economy in our midst? How do we reward those individuals and organizations that are plowing the ground of invention and innovation?

2. Invest in the Creative Ecosystem: Owensboro has discussed the riverfront development plan, but it appears as the realization of this plan hinges on private and public investment. Do we have enough commitment to bring it to fruition? At the same time John Bays and Zev Buffman are looking for every avenue to increase entertainment, the arts, and to enhance public spaces. How else can we expand this creative ecosystem?

3. Embrace diversity: At current we have a smattering of events associated with racial and ethnic diversity. Do we value these events enough to make them institutionalized? Can they be grown and become defining events for our community?

4. Nurture the creatives: Can we rise about the alternative perception that those with innovative ideas, new thinking, and progressive action garner? How can we advance their energy to do new things, to make our community a better place?

5. Value risk-taking: Is it customary to challenge conventional wisdom? Can we transform the risk of being ostracized into an expected way of thinking, of acting?

6. Be authentic: Do we fully understand our own uniqueness, and how it relates to the region, the state, the nation, the world? We do not have to stray from what makes Owensboro-Daviess County particularly special.

7. Invest in and build on quality of place: Can we continue the efforts of parks and recreation renewal? Can we build on the efforts of the Greenbelt? Will the City Connections Bikeway Project be supported?

8. Remove barriers to creativity: Are we prepared to look inward and recognize patterns of expectations and policy that constrain creative energy? Are we prepared to do things differently?

9. Take responsibility for change in your community: Are we satisfied with mediocrity? What must happen for us to recognize that change is necessary for our communitys survival? When will we know we have achieved it?

10. Ensure that every person has the right to be creative: Will we move beyond community economic development being a function of the local elite? Will the creative energies of everyone have the opportunity to be expressed, to be realized?

We must not assume that we must gauge our rate of creativity based on that of larger or even similar communities. Each community has its own baseline of creativity, and must work to become more creative based on its point of departure. Thus our initial task is to determine where we are, enabling us to plot what our creative community would look like if we embarked on certain goals and objectives. At the same time, we must keep in mind that what we define as innovative or creative for us, may indeed be old news for another community. We must focus on what works best for us, and we must develop ourselves inward looking out, not outward looking in.

Lets assume that we all agree on the generalities posed by the three aforementioned theories of community economic development. We all agree that a stable, more importantly a growing population is key, along with residents feeling a sense of community, and that fostering and promoting creative energy at home, in the workplace, and in the community is a horizon that our community must begin to bring into its purview.

The bottom line is that residents in the most successful communities in this country are waking up to the reality that their lives are more than a steady job and paying bills. Residents want more out of life, and more out of their communities. They are, however, not expecting to get it all for nothing. In fact, they want to be a part of the creativity that makes their community flourish.

Owensboro-Daviess County could indeed be at the early stages of its own little renaissance. While the changes to our local economy have certainly become institutionalized, our reaction to those changes and our methods to move our economy to new niches and specialty has yet been fully implemented. This can be our enlightenment.

As previously mentioned, this certainly has the appearance of being an elite movement of the local aristocracy. We need to assure the citizens of our community that they will not be left out based on their ability to pay the price for the ticket, or whether or not they received an invitation to a private meeting. We can recognize this and work to assure that this new found energy and sense of purpose is at least provided as an opportunity for individual, organizational, institutional, and community growth for all that wish to get on board. This is why the social capital approach will be important for us to maintain in order to make this process inclusive and to make it impact widespread.

A big first step for our community would be to realize that there is not one single approach to community economic development. We simply cannot assume that only raising the level of educational attainment, or increasing the number of jobs, or strengthening the ties of citizens to their institutions of living, or nurturing systems that promote human creativity will single handedly solve or successfully address community economic development. At the same time, our community must come to terms with the very real need to promote community economic development, as a community that is a sum of its equally vital parts. The population in Owensboro-Daviess County is declining. Economic development has a lot to with it. We as a community simply cannot sit still and remain hopeful and optimistic that things will somehow change by the grace of God. Rest assured that things will change. The very harsh reality about our current circumstance, particularly relative to communities of similar size in our state, is that our community population (unlike theirs) is dying.Note: increases in retail sales and a growing market of housing construction, combined with a declining population should be a troubling, early sign of a coming ghost town.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Dialogue and Deliberation: Part II, National Issue Forums (NIFs)

The opinions of the NIF model are taking into consideration adaptations and additions that have been used in the Owensboro area. To learn more about the NIF model, visit the "National Issues Forums (NIF) website, the Kettering Foundation website, or the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation website.

"National Issues Forums (NIF)" is a nonpartisan, nationwide network of locally sponsored public forums for the consideration of public policy issues."

The NIF forum is characterized by the use of a NIF guide. The guide's primary thrust for a dialogue that yields a "successful deliberation" is the formulation of information and knowledge of the particular issue into at least three options. The premise is that to achieve critical thinking and in-depth analysis there must be more than a "yes/no" stance on a particular issue. Simply put, a minimum of three options on any particular issue, with pros and cons per option, places participants in a group setting where they are required at the outset to explore the topic in more depth.

Much of the NIF work has been facilitated by the Kettering Foundation.

The Kettering Foundation's work is guided by three assumptions:

1. Democracy requires citizens who accept their responsibility and are able to make sound decisions about the public's interest.

2. Democracy requires healthy societies of citizens in communities.

3. Democracy requires legitimate institutions that encourage healthy civil societies.

The NIF forums require participants "to make choices with others about ways to approach difficult issues and to work toward creating reasoned public judgment." The pervasive theme of NIF forums is participant involvement in "choice work".

The outcome for NIF forums is to have the group come to a common ground. The common ground is that gray area where participants can agree. After reviewing the pros and cons of each of at least three options on an issue, participants then are asked to develop a common ground statement about the issue of which each participant can agree.

Some issues to consider when using the NIF model are:

1. The NIF guides are usually very detailed and should be reviewed prior to the forum date by participants in order to have dialogue and subsequent deliberation on the topic.

2. Although participants do not necessarily have to read the material prior to the event, using the NIF guide presupposes a monopoly of opinion on the topic and can co-opt participant input even before the dialogue and deliberation begins.

3. If framing the topic is to capture all thought on the topic, the brief must indeed do that. Therefore local communities may be intimidated in framing local issues under the guise of the three choice model simply out of fear for "missing something".

4. Framing an issue for participants allows them to think publicly and to dialogue on the topic, which allows for easier transition into deliberation.

Friday, February 4, 2005

My brother Nick turned 38 this year. Because he is so old=so many candles=a cake that was more like the 4th of July sky at the river than a sweet, candyland like, cute lil' birthday cake. "Honey, where's that fire extinguisher?!"

Ahhh, ACTING!!!!

Meet the new Borishnikoff, the Fred Astaire of the theatre, welcome to the debut writing of my debut performance in the 2005 production of the Off Broadway/RiverPark Center Production of Peter Pan...... Ok, if I knew then what I know now, I may not be writing this!

Well, I've wanted to get on stage, in performance mode as opposed to janitor mode, for quite sometime. I'm taken back to my high school days like a return flight to New Orleans when I had the opportunity to act, but passed for fear of public reprisal....of my friends no longer being my friends, and from becoming one of the 'weirdos' in school.

But ahhh yes, how nice it is to be a weirdo. So I have finally grown up, to the point of a seventeen year old. Whaaa? You ask. It's nice to be taken back to replenish my need to be creative. All in the name of growth. Sometimes we must return to a previous time in order to find ourselves in the middle of that futuristic state that seemed unatenable.

Well, it's not like my role in Peter Pan is going to be improvisational. Well, improvisational at the least. Even though our choreographer, Marcus from Atlanta, let me choreograph the flag scene!!!

So this is a new thing for me, but something I've wanted to do for a long time. I have officially begun my rehearsals for my debut performance in theatre. Would you believe me if I told you I would be doing the worm at center stage during Scene 8??? I think that's the right scene. It's either 8 or 4. Geez there are lots of scenes in this show......

I so hope I don't forget those dance moves.

Crazy Wisdom

The following is a couple of paragraphs from "In defiance of gravity: writing, wisdom, and the Fabulous Club Gemini", by Tom Robbins found in the January 2005 edition of Harper's Magazine. I found it highly ironic that I found the courage to post the definition of wisdom to the Owensboro Blog, and found this definition shortly thereafter. Mr. Robbins offers insight on what Tibetans call "crazy wisdom".

"Crazy wisdom is, of course, the opposite of conventional wisdom. It is wisdom that deliberately swims against the current in order to avoid being swept along in the numbing wake of bourgeois compromise; wisdom that flouts taboos in order to undermine their power; wisdom that evolves when one, while refusing to avert one's gaze from the sorrows and injustices of the world, insists on joy in spite of everything; wisdom that embraces risk and eschews security; wisdom that turns the tables on neurosis by lampooning it; the wisdom of those who neither seek authority nor willingly submit to it."

Dialogue and Deliberation: Part I, An Introduction

I have been involved in exploring the dynamics of dialogue and deliberation in the Owensboro community proper for several years. I have also served as a facilitator in various forms, particularly as an adjunct instructor in sociology for close to ten years. There have been many opportunities for dialogue and deliberation in the Owensboro community for the past six to seven years, particularly led by Community Conversations and the Public Life Foundation.

As vice chair of Community Conversations, I know all too well the challenge of maintaining neutrality in addressing community issues, particularly with a focus on providing the opportunity for all voices to be heard. To develop this process and approach to individual communication, intra-group dialogue, community dialogue, and subsequent deliberation on each of these levels, it becomes important to establish a foundation of theoretical justification for initiatives to proceed. The dialogue/deliberative work in the Owensboro community for many years has been characterized as "an experiment". Suffice it to say, the experiment has yielded some positive results (e.g., national attention to the community, our efforts have been nationally recognized in a published book by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, substantial local media coverage for the ongoing Conversation Cafes, preliminary local media coverage on our immigrant Study Circle, commentary after the immigrant Study Circle had completed, coverage by the Kettering Foundation and National Issue Forums for the local work on race and ethnicity and our police forums, and others) for the community and for the participants in these efforts.

To provide more clarity on this perspective of dialogue and deliberation, I have decided to focus on the discipline, highlighting models and techniques, and the underpinnings that make such efforts failures and successes in our community and state. This will be an academic, as well as an applied exercise that will bridge theory with practice, and vice versa.

I begin part one of this project, which I expect to take several months, with some common definitions and perspectives on what is dialogue and deliberation.

From the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation:

"Someone who works with these processes of public talk might explain that dialogue is a process that allows people, usually in small groups, to share their perspectives and experiences with one another about difficult issues. Dialogue is not about judging, weighing or making decisions, but about understanding and learning. Dialogue dispels stereotypes, builds trust and enables people to be open to perspectives that are very different from their own.

They might then explain that deliberation is a related process with a different emphasis. Deliberation promotes the use of critical reasoning and logical argument in decision-making. Instead of decision-making by power, coercion or hierarchy, deliberative decision-making emphasizes the examination of facts and arguments and the weighing of pros and cons of various options."