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Sanford FL


Why I Came to Sanford Today

20130713-172406.jpgWhy did I come to Sanford today, July 13th, on the 2nd day of jury deliberations in the Zimmerman Trial? My wife advised me to stay away. Friends said they wouldn't go anywhere near Sanford today. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the Seminole County Sheriff and Sanford Police Chief are saying they won't tolerate any violence when jurors reach a verdict. Still, I felt a need. I came because:

The police presence seems greater than the patron presence today. I counted eight law enforcement vehicles as I drove from the city limits to my lunch destination at Angel's Soul Food Cafe downtown. Few people are on the street, and the businesses are mostly empty, although there is a crowd of about 100 people gathering outside the Seminole County Courthouse. Local businesses suffered mightily last year during the protests before police finally arrested George Zimmerman and charged him with the murder. They're investing in this community and need support.

Sanford is a bigger city than this trial about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It's a cool, historic community founded on the shores of Lake Monroe in 1877 that once was the economic center of Central Florida. Sanford is re-emerging as an eclectic and diverse community that features a culture of blues music, plays, film festivals, art of all kinds and some of the best restaurants you'll find anywhere. It has an international airport that offers cheap flights and convenience, a beautiful Riverwalk and waterfront park, good schools, and a coveted SunRail commuter rail station that will open next year.

The City's leaders, business owners and residents are working diligently to overcome years of neglect, some unfortunate history, poor perceptions, and intense competition from other parts of Seminole County and the Central Florida region to create a sense of vision, new identity and purpose. As project manager for the Imagine Sanford visioning and strategic planning process, I've gotten to know the community and its people well. It is a distinctive, authentic place with a strong sense of community, both in the historic downtown and the African American communities of Goldsboro and Georgetown.

With a journalism degree, some reporting in my past and a taste for current events in my blood, I still want to be close to the news as it happens. Human dynamics are fascinating. At the bar where I am having a drink, I learned a 40-top reservation cancelled last night because of concerns about pending violence. A police officer also called to cancel a reservation because he didn't want to bring his family downtown under the threat of violence.

As the City's hired planning consultant, I have a sense of professional ownership and an ethical commitment to the community. I see the positive direction and opportunities here in Sanford. James Baldwin wrote that "not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can change unless it is faced." Through the visioning process, we have helped Sanford face its challenges and see its opportunities. The City is poised to adopt a vision and strategic plan that will direct its resources and attention on key initiatives to help it thrive and give opportunity to people of all ages, races and backgrounds.

Finally, I came because the ugliness of racial divide and profiling is still with us, 150 years after we fought a Civil War about it, 50 years after racial integration at the University of Mississippi and 20 years after Rodney King. There is still a lot of work to be done on all sides, and communities like Sanford are at the forefront of working to change their historical legacies into a bright future for all residents. The old guard is dying off and we have a new generation of leaders who don't care that it's always been done a certain way or that new ideas were rejected in the past. It's a new dawn and a new day. And Sanford stands to benefit.


Confronting Change Through Imagination


Confronting Change Through Imagination


clouds When I was about five years old, I would sometimes like to lie on my back in the grass of my hometown of Kings Mountain, NC on a sunny day and watch the clouds slowly join, form shapes, slip apart and gently drift by. I enjoyed the quiet, comfortable spot from which I could think big thoughts, picture different scenes in a story and imagine far off lands like Hon-A-Lee. Sometimes, if I lay there long enough and allowed my eyes to un-focus, I'd develop a feeling of panic as I imagined gravity no longer held me to the ground and any second I would suddenly separate from my bed of warm grass and drift off into the clouds and space beyond. Only by refocusing my attention on a nearby tree or a friend was I able to avert disaster. I still get that feeling sometimes.

Imagining the future can be like that: easy and peaceful, full of blissful creativity at one moment, and leaving one perplexed and panic-stricken the next. It can mean confronting challenges and fears as much as it means picturing a halcyon future of rewards, efficiency and cooperation.  In those days, I liked to imagine what I would become, what I would do and where I would go.  I also imagined how, if possible, I would overcome my fears and ultimately conquer them.

Un-Focusing to See Better

Now I am doing that for neighborhoods, cities, counties and regions. Planning only really solves problems when it confronts fears and challenges through a process of imagining different  future outcomes. By exploring possibilities and examining the issues that will influence change, we can free ourselves from convention, current rules and well-worn solutions. It really does begin with imagination, a working vision. It takes an open mind watching the shapes form, separate and drift by to see how trends or the actors in the story create opportunities or resolve conflicts. We like to talk about focusing on things in planning, such as understanding the data or pencilling out the details, but sometimes it takes un-focusing and looking at what the shapes form when you allow your mind to relax and drift as you imagine different solutions that could work. Like observing clouds, those solutions are rarely one-dimensional and require openness to imagining the possibilities rather than focusing on conventional responses or barriers.

Sanford, FL diagram

Integrated Solutions Take Leadership

Imagining possibilities is the foundation of integrated planning. Integration is essentially the simultaneous examination of factors rather than the sequential; putting elements together to assess their dynamic influence on possible outcomes.  Integration requires that we examine the ways cities work by moving beyond thought silos or conventional professional specialties to envision and craft solutions that will stand the tests of time and sabotage by opponents. Those kinds of solutions often depend on aligning strategies from different fields or disciplines to achieve a lasting legacy of remaking a neighborhood, district, city or region. Places like Charlotte, Portland, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City and many others have demonstrated the power of integrated planning and many other places of varying sizes and scales are learning from their examples. One lesson that becomes increasingly clear is the role of leadership from elected and appointed officials, citizens and policy experts to imagine and confront change in its various forms.

Cities That Work Blog

 This blog will explore the imaginative and practical work of planning and community design within the context of integrated approaches.  It will address the emerging issues, trends and new ideas that shape how we live, travel and experience place. We will feature various perspectives, opinions and analytical approaches reflecting the experience of different authors from our staff at Renaissance Planning Group.  Our intent is to improve understanding and share knowledge about the profession from our observations and lessons learned putting together plans, facilitating change and conducting applied research for a wide range of regions and places.

We've chosen to launch this blog because there is a new era taking hold for planning and development nationwide. Our notion of community, what we seek from places, and how we interact with our environment is changing, largely in response to global and national effects that are increasingly felt in the pocketbook, in our health and in our sense of safety and security. Much like the American or European Renaissance, I believe our communities are entering a period of rebirth and renewal, and like the artists, scientists and inventors of the Renaissance, it takes truly integrated thinking to bring visions of a bold new future to reality. This new era is both exciting and challenging, and will be put to the test by fiscal realities, keepers of the status quo and professional specialization. We hope you will contribute to the conversation as we explore the shapes and solutions that can form while keeping ourselves grounded.


Is Your Vision a Source of Derision?

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Is Your Vision a Source of Derision?


design drawing It’s pretty common for a vision to face condescension. Visioning can seem like a feel-good exercise that paints a rosy scenario, and you’ll hear people lament that it accomplishes little if anything meaningful. But it doesn’t need to be that way. There are ways to avoid common missteps that prevent community visions, or their more expensive regional vision brethren, from becoming irrelevant and wasteful exercises in civic booster-ism.

I think there are five keys to a successful community vision. By successful, I mean the vision is endorsed or adopted by the relevant governing board or boards, and it is effectively integrated into the organization’s operating procedures. It will have measurable objectives and targets defined, milestones for achieving them, responsibilities assigned and resources allocated to appropriate individuals, departments or organizations, and a mechanism for regular reporting of progress toward achieving the vision. To get there, a vision needs broad-based community support and it must tell an effective story about the neighborhood, community or region and where it wants to go. Here’s how:


Threats, challenges and opportunities need to come into sharp focus in the minds of the broader public and key community stakeholders. Where are the community conflicts? Why is it conflicted? Who are the actors in the conflict and what are their real motivations? It is imperative to make sure there is an increased awareness of the issues and trade-offs of doing nothing and doing something (or things). Visioning efforts often address the questions of Where are we now and Where are we going as the basis for helping people see the implications of past and present decisions on the future. Most importantly, you simply must have a keen awareness of the shared values in the community and how they can serve as a foundation for a future vision.

People standing outside a building.


You have to be real to know values. The only way to build trust and establish credibility with a vision process is to go the extra mile to demonstrate a commitment to learning about the community and relating the work on the vision to the needs expressed by the community. In the East Gainesville, FL minority neighborhoods, I held front porch meetings over sweet tea with residents concerned that prior planning efforts focused on other parts of the city. In Sanford, a community raw with racial tension over the Trayvon Martin incident, I spent several hours talking with people in the Historic Goldsboro neighborhood about ways to better their neighborhood at a Saturday morning community event celebrating the work of Dr. Velma Williams, the onlyAfrican American ever elected in Seminole County.


Pretty pictures certainly intrigue and inspire, but a successful vision is based on relevant analysis exploring alternatives and trade-offs. To be relevant, the analysis needs to relate to values of the community and sources of conflict. Perhaps use performance measures that the community helps to select. What are the implications of doing nothing or taking a specific action? What kinds of information do the public, community leaders and elected officials need to get comfortable with a concept or to make a decision?


A vision has to be a dynamic process. Having a work plan or scope is important, but you can’t be bound by the plan when circumstances dictate a change in methods or direction. Adapting to issues and responding quickly to new ideas or different actors engaging at different times shows that you are listening effectively and have the pulse of the community. The challenge is avoiding losing focus on outcomes by constantly responding or adjusting methods. But the greater risk is to hold to a work plan or a preconceived set of recommendations and lose credibility by not being responsive.

people attending a workshopAccomplishment

Developing and carrying out a vision takes time, and people have the attention span of a...well...modern Internet consumer. The vision may be long range in nature, but it must include at least two specific, meaningful actions that can occur with the flip of a switch once adopted. In fact, if the vision has a branding name like "envision" or "imagine," change the name to "destination" or "forward [insert name here]." This is necessary to show a distrustful and perhaps jaded public that there is commitment to the vision and a sincere desire for change. But the accomplishments can’t stop there. On a regular basis, say every year or two, there needs to be a highly visible public accounting of progress, results achieved and adjustments made to fulfill the vision. Even incremental responses and partial solutions should get some love. Pat yourself on the back for minute, acknowledge the kudos, and then move on to the next task.

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