People who enjoy talking about this region’s future might be exhausted by the end of the year.
Four Spokane-based groups have launched wideranging projects to describe what this community should look and feel like in the coming 20 years.
The four efforts will tackle the key social, medical, economic and governmental problems afflicting Spokane County and North Idaho.
They’ll rely heavily, organizers say, on citizen participation. And the groups expect to draw a grass-roots coalition representing a wide spectrum of the community.
Backers agree on one point: Unless people look seriously at shared problems, this region faces social and economic stagnation.
“Part of this (planning activity) is because we can’t keep doing things the same way we have,” said Linda Crabtree, marketing and planning director for Holy Family Hospital.
“Luckily, we have a lot of people working enthusiastically on these efforts.”
The efforts include the Health Improvement Partnership, Spokane Horizons, New Century Plan and the Spokane Community Network.
Two of those - Spokane Horizons and Spokane Community Network - came about after the state ordered communities to better involve citizens in planning for growth and social services.
Health Improvement Partnership and New Century stem from community-based groups that want to address health and the economy, respectively.
Several simultaneous planning efforts create the possibility of “studying ourselves to death,” said Spokane management consultant Tom Agnew. “The challenge is to do these different (projects) in a cohesive fashion.”
Agnew has watched Spokane and its neighbors struggle with the “vision thing” for several years. The jump in activity strikes him as “both a fad and a sign of the community trying to heal itself,” he said.
The fad is the current fascination for planning buzzwords such as “shared values,” “common vision” and “collaborative partnerships.”
The healthy aspect is the eager commitment of time and energy by hundreds of people to continue a sometimes long-winded review of issues that have been written about, studied and analyzed dozens of times already, he said.
Past attempts to define the city’s future include the Peirce Report, which detailed the need for streamlined government; Vision Spokane, which urged leaders to bring more people into the decision-making process; and the PACE Report, which showed Spokane’s economy is in need of better-paying jobs.
What sets the new efforts apart from previous versions is the focus on maximum community involvement.
All four efforts also start with a specific concern, such as health, but try to define a “holistic” solution to problems in that category.
“A community’s level of health is more than just medical services. It includes other things, like housing, public safety, the environment,” said Priscilla Gilkey, Empire Health Services vice president for community relations and a member of Health Improvement Partnership.
Recognizing that the multiple approaches may confuse the public and duplicate efforts, group leaders will attend a community workshop in downtown Spokane on Friday.
The public event, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Crescent Court, will give each of the groups a chance to explain goals and expectations.
Called Spokane Leadership Forum, the event also will give residents a chance to offer their 2 cents’ worth.
The cost is $45, but the fee will be waived for those who qualify.
Speakers will be author David Chrislip and Missoula Mayor Daniel Kemmis.
Kemmis will review his city’s experiments with generating widespread civic involvement.
Chrislip, a Boulder, Colo., author and organizer, will explain how cities such as Baltimore and Portland, Maine, have reversed civic gridlock through community planning efforts.
Such community efforts are occurring around the country, said Chrislip, mostly because ordinary citizens have felt locked out of decisions that affect their lives.
Instead of losing faith, people are flocking together to regain control, said Chrislip, author of “Collaborative Leadership: How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference.”
Such efforts don’t always work, he acknowledged.
When they do succeed, Chrislip said, the key factors are broad community participation, constructive focus on change and a strong desire to keep people well-informed.
If the Spokane-based efforts turn out well,
the result will be a set of ideas or “common values” to help leaders guide the community’s future, said Chrislip.
Those values might be nothing more than recognizing that people here place strong emphasis on safety or acknowledging they want both small-town values and urban amenities.
Is that enough to keep the region vibrant, well-governed and economically strong?
The jury’s still out.
“I do have a personal problem with the effort when what comes from it is so airy and puffy that it sounds almost meaningless,” said Terry Novak, Spokane’s former city manager and now director of Riverpoint Higher Education Park.
Backers know they’re not about to create the New World Order.
At best, what’s likely to emerge is a clearer set of choices and a better notion of why people choose to live in this region, said Agnew.
“I have the feeling these issues have already been adequately studied. We’ve already heard the news about economic development, seeing solutions from an organic approach,” he said.
“What’s never happened is reaching a consensus and finally agreeing that these are things we have to work together on.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: Charting the future