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Wanted: Planner Politico SWOT team

January 25, 2011

While at Velo-City Global 2010 in Copenhagen, Denmark, last summer, two inspirational new ideas shined upon me from the stormy heavens of twenty-plus years in the world-change trenches. This is one of them:

Create teams of experts ready to mobilize in support of political opportunities to make big changes in pursuit of healthier, more sustainable cities.

In particular, the election of a visionary new mayor is an ideal example.

Change is needed and change needs support.

Everywhere around the world there are people who want and need change. They face barriers. They need to overcome those barriers. Some are members of the public. They live the reality that needs changing. Some are experts: planners, scientists, policy makers, researchers, advocates and engineers, who have thought about these problems and their solutions. They need the political opening to apply their knowledge to real solutions, and other with complementary skills to work with. And SOME are well-meaning elected officials, who face at times tremendous even crippling institutional resistance to make major changes, as well as a steep learning curve to apply cutting edge solutions to their particular problems.

The key here is to align all three to work together.

Thus when a forward thinking elected such as a new mayor comes to power, a new form of support is needed to coordinate and coalesce the investigation and implementation of those broad intentions. The people are already there, although they may need help coming together. The expert support may be lacking. Bring it to them!

Obviously, the idea of maximizing achievements during political opportunity is not a new idea. However, the struggle to make change continues to grow and experiment. This proposal does appear to be a new idea.

True, each change of administration typically involves a replacing of high level support staff and the selection of new appointments, certainly for presidents and other high-level electeds. Even that is not enough.

Last night, attending the Sustainable Transport Award ceremony in Washington, D.C., presented by Institute for Transport & Development Policy (ITDP) during the 90th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, this idea came to mind again. Yes groups such as ITDP provide much support, however this idea differs even from NPO/NGO assistance, which is also very much needed.

One recipient of an award, Francisco Sheffield, the mayor of León, México, expressed gratitude for being able to go back to the people of Léon with international validation for all the work being done there. What if a team of helpers went with that validation?

Picture a team full of knowledge and vision assembled to support a mayor. In fact this is highly similar to what happened in Bogotá, Colombia, much celebrated for its rapid transformation.

At Velo-City I broached this exciting idea to Gil Peñalosa, an advocate for sustainable transportation and livable cities, and brother of the former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa. Gil was standing in for his brother as a featured speaker. He liked the idea.

Gil served as Commissioner of Parks during that legendary and tumultuous mayoral term, in which five megaprojects were championed, including the highly successful and now world-famous, premiere Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in the world, TransMilenio. Much was done for the transformation of public space, reduction of automobile use, and improvement of social equity, access and mobility.

Meggs discusses the SWOT Team with Gil Peñalosa at Velo-City Global 2010, Copenhagen, Denmark

Meggs discusses the SWOT Team with Gil Peñalosa at Velo-City Global 2010, Copenhagen, Denmark

Gil concurred that a large part of the success in Bogotá at that time was the special formation of a top level of supermanagers to bring together interdepartmental cooperation.

Often in city government there are institutional legacies which inhibit change. Departmental isolation or “siloization” is one meta-example. A team of coordinators helps them see the way to working together to fulfil a grand clear vision.

Thus I’m tentatively calling this collaborative response team idea the “SWOT” team, derived from the “SWAT” emergency response teams (highly trained response teams sent to save people in crisis situations, with an exciting theme song from the classic teevee show), and the “SWOT Analysis” methodology, although this idea goes beyond identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to strategic engagement and active implementation.

How can the movement for more sustainable, healthier, and more livable, lovable cities step up its involvement to really find the force of leverage and carry forward political openings? There is so much that can be done, even quickly and inexpensively, which saves lives, saves money, protects human and environmental health, and makes people happy.

All that is really needed is the political will and good guidance. Here is a call to bring these together. I for one would love to participate in such a collaboration. In the meantime I hum a few bars of Rhythm Heritage action anthem when not pulsing the active transport drumbeat to the old standby, the Mission Impossible theme song.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011 9:58 am

    Reminds me of Wal-Marts “GO” teams they use when starting a new store.

    The danger is that the outsider team could be resented if they ignorantly stumble into local cultural issues. There has to be a real humility.

  2. January 25, 2011 10:44 am

    Yes, good point; thank you!

    One hopes all advocacy planners will be sensitive to cultural issues. Change can be complex and there are often trade-offs between interests and goals.

    How sensitive should the Bogotá team have been to the parking of cars, which dominated the city?

    Is it necessary to displace housing for a new major system?

    How do we value health benefits versus historic buildings, should a choice ever appear necessary?

    In my initial concept I did not imagine causing suffering, only freeing the way to beneficial solutions.

    Change is possible and is necessary and will find us whether we like it or not. Let us choose good change before we arrive at something much worse.

  3. January 25, 2011 4:39 pm

    Here’s an article on the winning city, Guangzhou, China:
    http://english.cri.cn/6909/2011/01/25/189s617349.htm

  4. March 25, 2011 1:12 pm

    Well worth mentioning that this idea was discussed with Michael Repogle, Global Policy Director of ITDP, during the New Partners for Smart Growth conference (Charlotte, NC; Feb. 2011). Michael affirmed that this idea is very much in line with ITDPs current strategy, lending support as opportunities arise around the globe.

  5. November 25, 2012 1:04 am

    Hi to all, the contents existing at this web site are actually amazing for
    people knowledge, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

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