Starting on a vision quest
Vail, more than any other municipality I’ve watched over the years from upstate New York to southern California, grasps strategic planning. I don’t mean master plans, zoning maps, or any documents with “comprehensive” in the title. Still tactics, all.I’m talking about grand visions here. Those questions we ask most in adolescence: What do we want to be when we grow up? This remains a crucial one even in adulthood. Humans, after all, never do quite grow up. I’m not sure anyone would care to spent much time with one who had, either. In the mid-’90s, Vail had Vail Tomorrow, essentially a long community conversation that culminated in a list of goals. The discussion no doubt seemed to last forever without tangible progress. But looking back today, the town has ticked off a fair amount of that list. Most importantly, the project put purpose beyond the personal whims of leaders into very difficult decisions – like the Middle Creek Apartments for the sake of affordable housing, for instance. Strategic planning’s metaphor is bonsai. This is the high Japanese art of sculpting miniature trees by shaping their growth over the long term. Some of this involves pruning, but the main art is leaning on the plant so it grows the prescribed way. The keys lie in the artist’s patience, and vision.But this is America. Land of instant gratification, restless movement from one fad to the next, please me now, right now, or I’m gone. Bonsai? Are you kidding? No time. Hurry up. What’s next? Let’s go!Vail, headwaters in more ways than one for the county, leads in holding community conversations about the future, too. The names might be a bit grand. Vail Tomorrow began in 1996. In 2006, it’s Vail 2020 – cute, eh? The idea is to see into the future rather than just the past, of course.The town has started on this next round of such vision quests – inviting organizations with stakes in Vail, as well as the populace, to contribute. But the concept does not seem to have flowed much downstream. Eagle County’s government might gain the most from an exercise like this. Maybe their leadership could model Vail here. Couldn’t hurt.These were my thoughts coming last week to the first of the various meetings that will shape Vail 2020, the sequel to Vail Tomorrow. About three dozen of us gathered to see a presentation and offer thoughts as representatives of government, business and other organizations involved with Vail.I attended by default, of course. More responsible representatives of the Vail Daily as an institution were on vacation or otherwise couldn’t make it. Still, I felt privileged to take part in the conversation, if a bit sorry for the other august representatives who had to deal with the paper’s senior smart aleck. I can just see the general manager of our company’s Rocky Mountain empire, Steve Pope, cringing as he reads this and realizes they let Rogers in this session.But I was pretty good – understanding that the language of the bureaucrats would be pretty tortured as they tried to express those fuzzy, all-encompassing thoughts about the great things they wanted their organizations to achieve. I don’t think I made too many funny faces at the bureau-speak. Still, I could not help but think a beer or two would have improved the discussion considerably. I found the conversation earnest enough but, well, a bit careful. You know you are getting somewhere as the ratio of plain talk rises, and it did, a little. Not quite enough, in my judgment. But this was the beginning. There’s plenty of time yet.The plain talk should increase dramatically later this month. The town is inviting residents to discuss their “values” as a community Aug. 22. Then Aug. 24, a discussion is scheduled on the community’s “vision.” The values are qualities Vail finds important. Vision takes in what the community thinks should be done. From there, town officials will put together a grand plan and report back to the community.The plan should represent the best consensus possible for what Vail aims to become in 2020. Figure out your destination, and you have a better chance of choosing the best path to get there. If you don’t have a sense of where you aim to go, well, there’s no there there. The difference between Vail and the rest of the county right now is that Vail works harder at giving constituents a direct say in the community’s future. And you know, more of that community ought to take advantage of this relatively rare opportunity to practice some very direct democracy. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOGVail, Colorado
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