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A Call to Action – No. 2

October 13, 2010

This has all been shifting and re-shaping in my brain for quite some time. Sorry if it’s like getting hit by a really big wave 🙂

What we know:
– Pottstown has plenty of talented, creative, knowledgeable individuals and groups who are all stakeholders in the town’s revitalized future.
– They need to be working together in a coordinated fashion, doing work that is meaningful.
– There are plenty of laws and regulations, both internally and externally, which determine and affect what can and can’t be done.
– There are public agencies and public and private funding sources that must be aggressively pursued in order to bring the most possible benefits to Pottstown.
– The town must get its fiscal, administrative and enforcement house in order. That is underway; it must continue.
– The town must determine and then assert a positive public vision of itself.
– In order to make a break with the negative perceptions of the past, the town must go above and beyond what is typical when it creatively markets this new vision.

What must be done:

1. Get copies of the following documents, (re-)read them, refer to them often, keep them in front of you. These are the most current documents that guide everything your community is supposed to be doing… until they are superseded by a new study or newly-adopted ordinance or policy. There might be a few more – the District’s facilities assessment, for sure – but these form the foundation.

a. Pottstown Economic Development Strategic Plan – 2008
b. ULI report – 2009
c. Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Comprehensive Plan – 2005
d. 422 Corridor Master Plan – 2010
e. Washington Street Action Plan – 2010
f. Core District Redevelopment Plan – 2003
g. Land Use & Zoning Ordinance
h. Health & Wellness Foundation 2008 Needs Assessment Report – 2009
i. Open Space Plan – 2006
j. Western Riverfront District Redevelopment Plan – 2002
k. Reconnections: Reconnecting the People of North Coventry Township & Pottstown Borough with Each Other & Their Schuylkill River Heritage – 2004
l. Fire Services Assessment – 2009

It would be really helpful to create a kind of “summary library” of what’s in all these studies and documents, so people could have a quick guide to what’s recommended in each of them. I haven’t even seen all of them yet.

2. Engage the community and discover your vision through a series of community workshops. (Off the top of my head; needs refinement.)

a. Get a volunteer facilitator or facilitating team. Decide on the format (structure of visioning sessions, how to put people into teams, how best to convey info & elicit ideas, etc.)
b. Line up dates and large enough venue.
c. Get a summary of relevant information from the above studies & reports out to people well in advance. Set up your own visioning web page on the Borough’s website to put out information.
d. State clear goals, something like:

i. To come up with the top 2-4 essential qualities that define Pottstown (e.g. Pottstown is… the river or steel/manufacturing or pie or small town America);
ii. To choose 1-2 essential qualities that you want to promote;
iii. To come up with and define the top 1-2 economic development implementation strategies that will highlight that essential quality (e.g. We should encourage… arts & restaurants or pharmaceutical manufacturing or Pie City, USA or green manufacturing);
iv. To develop a community mission statement based on that essential quality & those strategies.

e. Get all interested parties – citizens, civic groups, elected & appointed officials, property owners, business owners – in the same large room for 3-4 Saturdays in a row from 8-11 a.m. Always have coffee & food!
f. Stop during the process to overcome obstacles.
g. Decide who is taking notes. Videotape the proceedings & put up on YouTube with link from Borough web page.
h. Have a report of the proceedings written up within two weeks of the final meeting, posted online and available at Borough Hall. Maybe have Council adopt a resolution supporting the document & the strategies.

3. Hold yourselves accountable to the vision. It should not be hard because you will have figured it out yourselves and should believe in it. If there is not enough buy-in, then there was a mis-step earlier in the process or in the community’s commitment to work together, in which case you should not have gone forward. Stop during the process to overcome obstacles!

4. Implement the vision. (More on the nuts-and-bolts of this in future posts.) My first suggestion, though: refer to the Economic Development Strategic Plan; don’t re-invent the wheel.

So, who will do it? And what’s the timing?

The Pottstown Partnership should take the lead on this. For that to happen, the individual member agencies – Borough Council, School District, County Redevelopment Authority, Chamber/PAID – need to finalize their agreements, mission and by-laws and hire someone. It’s been reported that they’re close to that.

On the other hand, maybe this is not how they see their Executive Director or Economic Development Director working. In many other places, an economic development director would be coming into an already functional department. All of this would have been decided, and they would hit the ground running and start implementing incentive programs, targeting funding sources, working with property and business owners, etc.

But that’s not the case here. In fact, because of the complicated and failed history of trying to change Pottstown’s economic future, I would caution against anything other than an initial, all-out engagement of the community. People need to be brought in, in a meaningful way. That’s something I forgot – one of the first steps in the visioning is to list your assets. If I did a chart of the community’s assets, I’ll bet you’d be surprised at how good you look on paper! Remember way back when we talked about the work of the community? I used a basketball analogy to describe everyone moving in a coordinated way, creating space and openings for each other so that everyone participates and looks good. That’s an ideal to continue to strive for. I have also said that I don’t think there’s any “savior” that’s going to perform any miracles. If enough people don’t buy into some economic development czar’s vision, you’re going to be bumping up against the same old limitations.

This visioning process doesn’t have to take more than 2-3 months to reach some consensus and then you’d rally all your resources behind that. There is urgency here, after all.

But what if the Partnership is not ready, or doesn’t come to fruition, for whatever reason? There is actually nothing to stop citizens from organizing and carrying out all of this planning and visioning activity – it’s just that there will be no underlying commitment that the elected officials will adopt it or pay any attention to it or implement any of it. That’s why there’s got to be an officially-sanctioned forum for all this to take place.

Frankly, I have no idea if this is something that the community or the leadership of the community even wants to pursue. Again, my m.o. is to throw out (reasoned) ideas and see what sticks.

I’ll look around and post a few suggestions for books that describe how to do these visioning projects. Of course, anything can be adapted for the needs of a particular community. Oh, yeah… then there’s the money. Usually you pay top dollar for a consultant to come in and run things. My take on that is to get a facilitating team that’s a cross-section of the community – not too large & no one controversial! – who will organize and run the sessions. In fact, there is some other economic development groundwork that you could take on as a community and not pay for. You could even use this “fiscal responsibility” in your future marketing materials. “Doing more with less… and doing it well” – that kind of thing.

Now you see what I mean about this only being the beginning of the real work that desperately needs to be done.

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4 Comments
  1. MB Lydon permalink
    October 14, 2010 9:48 am

    Sue, this is a comprehensive list with great suggestions, references and task points. I am volunteering to work with anyone who wants to keep moving in the right direction. I’m not afraid of the effort or grunt work and I know there are lots of people in Pottstown who feel the same way!

    And you’re right, we need a moment of “attaboys and girls” for the actions that have been taken, and to use that momentum to push us ever forward! P2PP!

    • October 14, 2010 10:09 am

      Okay, you’re going on the volunteer list, and you will not be able to escape until the job is done! 🙂

  2. Andrew Kefer permalink
    October 14, 2010 10:38 am

    Hi Sue, these last two posts of yours have really got me thinking. I’m not known as a leader, or a ‘take charge’ kind of fellow, but I would really like to at least begin to take some initial steps to arrange and organize some form of community vision for Pottstown. First of all, are these documents available for all to see at borough hall? Would I need to request them via RTK request or are these the types of documents that can be checked out of the library? Also, I’d like to know who I should be talking to regarding getting the proverbial ball rolling? Should I address council, should I visit Mr. Waldrick, the PDIDA director, all of the above? Time to put my interest as an ‘armchair planner/economic development guru’ to work. Have a great day and thanks for helping to keep me centered and helping all of us realize that Pottstown is indeed making strides in the right direction!

    Andrew Kefer

    • October 14, 2010 10:55 am

      Great to hear from you, Andrew. I can put up some links later today to a bunch of those documents, and I’ll check at Boro Hall about the few that I don’t think are online. Might have to pay for copies of those, but they could then be scanned and put online too.

      As to who to contact… Leighton Wildrick, sure. And maybe Jason Bobst, too. I don’t know if there are any openings on boards/commissions that might dovetail with your interests and where there might be an immediate need for a volunteer. I think there’s also a place on the Boro website with info about how to contact them if you’re interested in volunteering.

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