Fayette Visioning in real time — Some questions
As the Fayette Visioning Initiative process continues to unfold, it has been a fascinating opportunity for me to watch and learn from multiple perspectives: as a steering committee member, a survey participant as well as an observer of the process.
Here’s what’s really interesting to me about this stage of the visioning process: currently, the consultants and the steering committee volunteers are hard at work to transfer the themes which emerged from the extensive data and input collection into a Vision Plan for the future.
But as you would expect, Fayette County is clearly not at a standstill awaiting those results. Local planning departments and commissions continue to do their work; elected bodies still are making decisions on the community’s behalf; private and public investments continue to be made in our community; and citizens are still going about their daily lives.
Yet as I read the compelling and urgent messages that our visioning consultant’s work tells us about where we are and where we are going without a few changes in our course, I wonder if there is a way to make this visioning process interface with the real time decisions being made right now?
How can the visioning process inform and shape decisions not only made on the public policy level but also on the private investment/private business level in meaningful ways?
Here’s a real time example. The data in the visioning initiative’s competitive assessment is clear and compelling when it says our community’s population growth has slowed to the point that we are stagnating.
Our population is rapidly aging, and healthy numbers of younger professionals and young families are NOT choosing to locate here for specific reasons which include lack of appropriate housing choices and more attractive amenities in neighboring communities.
Communities without healthy growth will die, and the conclusions seem to be clear — we need to bring more options to our community which will draw more residents under age 45, and we need to do it soon. For a tangible indicator of what’s happening, just look at the dropping enrollments at our county schools.
Yet consider the level of private investments right now awaiting public bodies’ go-ahead to build significant numbers of 55+ homes and assisted living projects in our community.
The projects have been on the books since just before the recession, and public input at that time was clear that “senior living” was the direction our community wanted to go. It’s still very likely that senior housing will sell well, and the private investment will be a “successful” effort related to sales and occupancy.
But here’s my question: as a community, is there something can we do to make the compelling data and critical issues identified in the visioning report intersect with real time developments and decisions being made in the public and private sectors?
Can the community sprint ahead to nudge the process to a positive outcome for our future sustainability?
And will quality developers, who have patiently waited to move forward with their projects, pause long enough to hear an urgent community voice and consider additional ways to move forward to meet the community’s needs for the long term or will the push to “move forward” inhibit a willingness to consider new data?
There are many other real-time examples particularly related to education and our community’s interest related to investments in digital media training, higher education institutions, internships and ways to bring real world experience and opportunities to students in our community.
The visioning process is only one third of the way completed, and there is much more work to be done to complete the vision plan. I believe our community has greatly needed a listening process which was separate from an imminent decision by one of our local elected bodies.
I am gratified when a member of one of the focus groups says, “They listened to me and my input is part of this report.”
But all of the input will be for naught if each of us doesn’t ask our public and private leadership to heed what the Visioning Initiative is telling us.
If you’d like to read the full Fayette Visioning Initiative “Competitive Assessment” report, visit www.FayetteVision.org and click on the “Documents” tab where you’ll find a link to the report.
[Virginia Gibbs is president and CEO of the Fayette Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Fayette Visioning Initiative Steering Committee.]