Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wishing Isn’t Enough, You Must Also Do Something to Deserve Good Things

(Note: I’m publishing this post on Christmas Day.  It’s part of my inexplicable compulsion to maintain my commitment to publish on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

But you’re not bound by my compulsion.  It’s Christmas Day.  Go spend it with family and friends.  Or if you’re alone on Christmas, which has also happened to me, take a walk through your neighborhood, exchanging Christmas greetings with strangers, and then find a restaurant for a leisurely meal, concluded by giving a big tip to your server.

This post will still be here tomorrow, waiting for you.)

For this Christmas Day post, I’ll take an object lesson from the Santa Claus myth.

I’m acquainted with a developer who has proposed an intriguing downtown project.  It’s a well-conceived concept that most in his community endorse with enthusiasm.

But there is a sticking point.  A downtown city policy, adopted long ago, hasn’t worked out as anticipated, creating a hurdle that the developer must overcome.  He’s working at it diligently, a bit surprised that the city isn’t being more of a partner, but confident that the city will participate at the appropriate time.

Against that backdrop, he was taken aback to be recently greeted by a city councilmember with “Happy holidays.  I sure hope you can find a solution to your problem.”

The greeting clunked on at least two levels.  First, the councilmember was distancing the city from any ownership of the situation, even though it was a city policy that had gone sideways.

Second, and perhaps more profound, was the unwillingness to participate in the solution.  “What can I do to help you solve the problem?” would have been a much better message.

The Santa Claus myth tells children that they can ask for gifts, but they must make an effort, through good behavior, to be worthy of being given gifts.

Shouldn’t a similar standard apply to adult behavior?

In my role as a commenter on urban development, I’m often asked why developers often don’t “give us the projects we want.”  I usually noted the constraints of securing financing and having a reasonable expectation of a return.  But the failure of city halls to facilitate desired projects is also a factor.

If we make every development hurdle a problem to be solved by the developer, we’ll end up with deep-pocket, one-size-fits-all developers being the only ones who can fight through the process.  To get the town we want, we must identify the projects we want and provide a little assistance.

The assistance can be a supportive letter to the editor or a helpful testimony at a public meeting.  Or perhaps it can be a councilmember asking “What can I do to help solve our problem?”

If we expect children to earn the things they want, we should put the same standard on ourselves.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (


  1. Dave:

    I couldn't wait to open my Christmas blog present! What can I do to help councilmembers take a "how can I help" approach to good urbanism projects in my town?

    1. Barry, I don't think the problem can be addressed at a council level. I suspect that most councilmembers already have mindsets that don't include urbanism or can count votes well enough to know that opposing drivable suburban development won't play well at the next election. My belief is that the battleground is at the friends and neighbors level. Convince those folks that urbanism is necessary to our future, have them carry that belief to the ballot box, and the council will follow.

  2. Just got to this, now, and thank you, Happy All. I will be listening to the above question re: our town.

    1. Murray, thanks for the comment. I hope my response to Barry was helpful.