Saturday, March 30, 2013

How does strategic planning apply to neighborhoods?

Sarah Kaplan and Eric Beinhocker paraphrase Louis Pasteur to postulate that the real value in generating strategic plans lies in creating a mindset for management teams to use for decision-making.[1] Mindset creation, an endeavor to focus an organization’s direction around a mission, has long been used among nonprofit organizations to focus their limited energies and finances. While most organizations have strategies, does it make sense for neighborhoods to have strategies?

People in the same neighborhood share space and so have similar needs such as a business district, open space, convenient transportation, a sense of community, the list goes on. Neighborhoods also have physical boundaries. Since people in a neighborhood have shared needs and the area has a limited geographic scope, it makes sense to organize to achieve common goals. A community development corporation (CDC) is designed to do just that. The strategy of a CDC is typically to improve the well-being of the people in that area by focusing on certain characteristics of the neighborhood. CDC’s serve broad needs of many customers in a narrow market and occupy “a unique and valuable position, involving a different set of activities, and creating fit among those activities.”[2]

A local CDC, Economic Development South (EDS) is a private, nonprofit corporation that brings together local businesses, government, school districts, and technical professionals “to create and recreate redevelopment plans and efforts” for neighborhoods in the southern area of Pittsburgh and bordering municipalities.[3] Their core emphases are:
1. Creating a vibrant economy (local wealth, prosperity, and jobs)
2. Focusing on people, communities, and their needs
3. Conserving natural  systems and minimize ecological impacts

To this end they study the area, develop neighborhood strategies, propose and help finance real estate and transportation development projects, and facilitate collaboration between groups with similar goals. The value of strategic planning for EDS is essentially the same as in any organization.

Moreover, the process of strategic planning for EDS is largely the same. They continually conduct conversations with residents and leaders in the area who regularly challenge their strategy. This happens naturally because the mission of the organization demands a focus on the communities. EDS has initiated projects that fit its mission, most recently receiving a $50,000 grant to plan a special commercial district.[4]

When considering projects, EDS recognizes that they are in a dynamic environment. They should consistently be asking about predictability and malleability somewhat differently than discussed by Reeves, Love, and Tillmanns.[5] Changes in infrastructure, community dynamics, and natural systems last lifetimes and have ripple effects. In terms of predictability, how will the strategies that EDS adopts sustainably increase demand for the area for residents and businesses? In terms of malleability, to what extent will the project under consideration influence that demand? And in terms of realistic implementation, will the community support it?

Strategic planning applies to neighborhoods in a similar manner as to other organizations. Both the value and process of strategy development are similar despite the broader stakeholder groups inherent in CDC’s. EDS has defined and pursued its strategy well but some questions remain. What is the residents’ and leaders’ vision for the area? Under what circumstances will the strategy change? Can and should their strategy be narrowed or prioritized?


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