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Knoxville Regional
Transportation Planning Organization

400 Main St, Suite 403
Knoxville, TN 37902

phone: (865) 215-2500
fax: (865) 215-2068

PlanET Perspectives:

Keeping Our Plans Dust-Free

By Grant Rosenberg
Southeastern Housing Foundation
Posted 09/10/2013

We have tremendous challenges to our region as it relates to our economy, environment, transportation, health and housing. Whether it is rising transportation costs, climbing rates of child and adult obesity or an economy that is producing low-skill, low-wage jobs, there are difficult issues that require a regional commitment to address.

Traditionally, in government policy and planning, we approach these challenges by analyzing, interpreting and then producing a fancy report for public consumption. Unfortunately, this fancy report gets filed away in a drawer or sits on a shelf and collects dust until the next grant or funding cycle and then we do this all over again.

Back when the Consortium came together to take advantage of a grant opportunity in the summer of 2010, our desired outcome was very simple: “Let’s build a plan that won’t sit on the shelf and collect dust.” Of course, we have developed detailed goals along with even more objectives and strategies and tactics and on and on and on. However, the desired outcome remains the same.

Our process has had three parts

  1. Establish an initial identity and direction
  2. Engage, educate and develop a shared vision for our region
  3. Create a regional implementation strategy that includes five or more demonstration projects, one in each county of our region.

As we wrap up our final phase and reflect back on the process, I offer the following suggestions for keeping the plan “dust-free”:

  • Elected Officials will not lead this process: This is not meant to be critical of our elected leadership. In fact, we have some really great City and County Mayors in our region. My point is that election cycles are, well, cyclical. This means that today’s policies may not generate any impact for today’s politicians. Exercising leadership doesn’t demand a political position. We have worked with literally hundreds of leaders throughout the region, and they will be responsible for the implementation of this plan. Bad politics will always get in the way of good policy; however the data this plan has gathered cannot be ignored: Many naysayers will drum up conspiracy theories, infer motives, and outright lie, but it’s important to not allow emotions to get in the way of facts.

  • Progress takes time, and planning requires patience and flexibility: PlanET has models that outline growth projections to 2040, but those projections will likely change over time. This concept of preparedness demands that we be agile enough to manage changing forces and trends. Having a plan is extremely important, however plans will need to adapt and the capacity of leadership throughout the region will determine our future success. Furthermore, the need for sound planning will not end in 2040; therefore, it’s a process of continuous updates, improvement, and precision.

  • Finally, let’s not let “cost” get in the way of “value”: Value, as a measure of benefit in economics, is more than simply dollars and cents. It is not derived over the short-term. What is the value of a great parks and greenway system? Clean rivers, lakes and streams? Healthy kids and adults? A quality public education system? We can calculate costs and measure the economic impact on health care, property and sales tax, but real value goes much deeper than that. The most cited feature that attracts many people to our region is its low cost of living. However, I would argue that it’s really not our low cost, but a high value that makes our region competitive. There are plenty of places throughout the country and the world that are inexpensive to live but that lack both economic and community value – at least compared with East Tennessee. Our goals must look beyond the bottom line and consider the intrinsic benefits by which value is achieved.
  • As we move forward these next several months and years, we will see many different proposals and policies developed as a result of PlanET. While some will pass and some will fail, it is important for us to keep building the capacity of leadership, agility of purpose and value of communities throughout East Tennessee. These principles cannot sit on a shelf and collect dust if they are ingrained into the culture of our region.

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    Copyright 2013 by Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission
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