This is the question receive on many of my projects. This is also the question I ask when I see ridiculous projects.
There are four simple principles that I follow on any project:
- Want is the community vision? Any investment must be in alignment with the community’s values and principles. This is actually the hardest task, and it does not necessarily require and expensive consultant to complete. Planners need to listen to the citizens of their community. A vision is not a solution, which is a common pitfall. A vision is the moral rudder for the decision making, and it is what you will test future investments against.
- Follow the Money. The recent economy has taught us that no single project can be completed with a single funding source. Your funding source may not specially outline the exact purpose of your project, however it may be part of your project. Do not be afraid to ask direct beneficiaries of a project to participate. For example, the adjacent businesses to a new road project may be willing to contribute funding or accept maintenance to add additional landscaping. Unlike underground pipes, many property owners are willing to fund items that beautify their properties.
- What is the return on investment to the local community? This is the most complicated question to answer, and there no formulas for this evaluation. Most communities have never even through about this in the decision making process for the investment of capital projects. Your return on investment must always return back to your community vision. New tax revenue or job creation through economic development is one measure of success, but there are others. For example, by designing a lower speed roadway may result in a safer street with less accidents. This may not generate a cash however, this may result in more walking, quieter streets, and general better quality of life.
- Is this the most cost effective and simple way to achieve this project? You do not need complicated engineering gymnastics, or grandiose plans to improve you community. Seek out the simple solutions to meet the above objectives. On a recent roadway project, we found that flooding and Stormwater management was a critical issue. Conventional engineering suggested adding new gutters to catch the water, new pipes, to move the water, and a giant pond to treat the water. This would require an extensive engineering project that our community could not afford. When we stepped back, we found that we could enhance the existing swales and add a few new pipes under the cross streets. This simple solution addressed the problem at a fraction of the cost. This saving provided us the ability to first, get something done, and second reserve funding for the next project.
We all have to remember that instant cities are a very new concept, and we may never see the instant building prior to the great housing bubble. Authentic Cities are built over time. We can achieve great things, if we take small steps in a continued effort towards the community’s vision.