Friday, January 29, 2016

Wicked DMC

"Planning problems are inherently wicked." 
Horst Rittel & Melvin Webber,
"Dilemmas of a General Theory of Planning"

Click-bait and switch

Admittedly, calling DMC “wicked” might be a bit of click-baiting. Even so, when the term is understood not as some sort of moral opprobrium, but referring to a certain type of problem, “wicked” is aptly used to characterize DMC and all it has come to mean.

Dating back to the late 1960’s, the notion of a “wicked problem” was first formally offered up in 1973 by Horst Rittel, a professor in design science, and Melvin Webber, a professor in city planning. They were describing a class of problems that do not lend themselves to the “scientific” approaches broadly favored at the time. Approaches still much in favor in most places today.

This “scientific” approach to problem-solving takes for granted that we can first come to a shared understanding of what the problem is and determine its causes and effects. Based upon this shared understanding, we can enumerate a list of possible ways the problem might be solved. From this list of possible solutions, we can select the one that best addresses the causes of the problem to reduce, manage, or eliminate its harmful effects. Implementing that solution, we can monitor the results and adjust accordingly as indicated.

Funny story: turns out that the scientific approach doesn’t work for problems that aren’t scientific: policy problems, planning problems, social, economic, business, and political problems. And, it turns out, even scientific problems that cannot be addressed without planning that depends upon social, economic, business, or political policy. The scientific approach to problems is still great and powerful and all that, but only as far as it goes - which isn’t any further than the hook just outside the laboratory door where scientists hang their lab coats.

You can't get there from here.

In the laboratory, parsimony and consensus are virtues valued and revered by the scientific community. Problems are shaved with Ockham’s Razor until they are as smooth and innocent as a baby’s bum. The point is to reach an agreement - at least for now - that when you do A you get B.

Not so much with wicked problems. Wicked problems are persistently complex and conflict prone. You cannot get to B from A because you can't find A and no one agrees that B is what comes next anyway.

With a wicked problem people usually do not (and may never) agree on just what (or even whether) the problem is. Solutions to wicked problems are not good or bad, but better or worse. Any attempt to solve a wicked problem results in changing what the problem is and uncovers other problems for which the problem you thought you were solving was just a symptom. Discussions of wicked problems often degenerate into a long recital of what about this and what about that and what about them and who the hell are you.

Wicked problems aren’t just big - though they usually are. They aren’t just complex - though they always are,. Wicked problems are so big that no one perspective can encompass them. Wicked problems are so complex that no one point of view can comprehend them. Wicked problems are wicked because they require these multiple perspectives and points of view to survey their size and gauge their shape. They remain wicked because their size and shape change even as they are surveyed and gauged, often even because they are being gauged and surveyed.

If that sounds confusing, it is. Wicked problems resist the concise and eat clarity’s lunch.

Never has the wickedness of DMC been made more clear than in the following snippet from the recent DMCC board meeting. Trying to frame the consideration of a request coming before the DMCC board, Patrick Seeb, the DMC EDA director of planning and placemaking said*:
Our to ensure that each individual project works as hard to achieve and advance the vision of the DMC plan. Additionally we are trying to create synergy between projects that don't necessarily align with each other in terms of time or pace and do not necessarily even know about each other.... Also what is the relationship between...this project and other proposed projects... That's really the work we have been doing with this project and connecting it with the other projects that are happening simultaneously - or not quite simultaneously that's really the issue. They are happening not in exactly the same time sequence. 
First, appreciate that the transcription of Seeb’s comments above has been edited. Some details left out. So it's even more complicated. Also, this request before the DMCC board speaks only to one proposed project in a sub-district not deemed a current DMC planning priority in a location that doesn’t care what DMC’s current planning priorities are. What emerges in the subsequent discussion is the reminder that the existing complexities of putting up any building in the city are now compounded by the interests of a big idea and the intentions of a grand design that are in turn confounded by the existing complexities of putting up any building in the city.

“With that I believe I'll turn it over to you, Mr. Council President.”

As Rittel and Webber observed forty years ago, “Planning problems are inherently wicked.” Forty years later, Philippe Vandenbroeck of the Belgian strategy consultancy shiftN adds this bit of advice:
Power remains a contentious issue in dealing with wicked problems. For innovators it’s an obvious nuisance. If only the regime, the powers-that-be weren’t there, it would be much easier to pilot a transition! However, those wanting to depart from the status quo need to recognise that change and friction go together. When those ‘in charge’ are not prodded by innovators, they become complacent and absorbed in day-to-day problem solving and negotiations. However, change agents also need the powers that favour the existing state of affairs. If not they become a victim of their own fantasies and imaginations. The question, therefore, is not how to do away with or circumvent power, but how to productively make use of the tension between conservation and change.
"The paradoxical task," says Vandenbroeck, "…is to force 'radical change in incremental steps'".

Good advice. Especially when all such DMC EDA statements will implicitly conclude as Seeb’s did above: “With that I believe I'll turn it over to you, Mr. Council President.”


* video time stamp 02:05:25

Friday, January 15, 2016

Rochester Agonistes: the 2nd Street Corridor

"Well, I guess, this is where the rubber meets the road." - James Campbell, DMCC Board

The road in this case is 2nd Street SW between 11th Avenue SW and Highway 52. Mr. Campbell, a former Wells Fargo Minnesota CEO, was teeing up his remarks in response to a request from the City of Rochester on behalf of Brutger Equities Property Management and Development.*

The city's request sought the approval for using DMC TIF provisions and securing DMC infrastructure project approval related to the construction of a Holiday Inn on 2nd Street SW across from St. Mary's Hospital or as we now are asked to call it: Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Mary’s Campus. Of course this development project would add another Holiday Inn and Suites on 2nd Street SW a few blocks to the east of the Holiday Inn Express and Suites already operating right off Highway 52.

During public comments a couple of hours earlier, the DMCC board heard two views of the project from Jesse Welsh of Imagine Kutzky and Leslie McGillivray-Rivas of WSB Associates and also representing Brutger Equities Property Management and Development. They offered decidedly different views on the city’s request.

McGillivray-Rivas’ view was that the TIF finance request was “appropriate in its request and scope” as well as her regrets that the DMCC board was troubled with letters from those like Ms Welsh who thought otherwise.

Welsh’s view was that saying “OK” to the request would be tantamount to say “OK”  to poor urban design  and haphazard planning. She did allow that it was a “very nice Holiday Inn,” I took her to mean “as Holiday Inns go this is a nice one”.  Of course, given there is another Holiday Inn so nearby, we can easily begin to test Welsh’s observation. She also observed that: “Allowing developers to bring forward incomplete projects and ask to meet their timelines will not allow for thoughtful planning our city desperately needs now.”

When the DMCC Board took up the issue later in the meeting, it did not get around to affirming or denying McGillivray-Rivas’ view, but with only a single notable exception the board did embrace Welsh’s.

The board’s reservation’s were not just on the substance of the design. Though the differences there were notable. For example, the city took the view that the project had “merit” because it provided amenities such as “higher toilets and grab bars,“ in other words it would be ADA compliant; and “enhanced streetscape design”. On the latter bit of “merit,“ one board member commented that even though the copy said there was “generous landscaping …I think frankly that was a generous comment.”

The board’s reservation were not just based on some city and DMC EDA staff shortfalls given the decision they were being asked to make. Though one  board member said he had heard more about this request reading the local paper and another member said this was the first she was hearing of it.

No, I think the problem the DMCC board had with the request - again with a single, notable exception - is found in two fundamental differences.

First, the city and the DMCC seem to differ on what each regards as good governance and responsible use of the public dollar. Welsh’s comment above bears repeating for what she cautions against as an obstacle to thoughtful planning describes very well how the city proceeded in this - and, well, many other cases: allowing developers to bring forward incomplete projects and ask to meet their timelines.

The city made no bones about doing just that in making this request. The DMCC board was having none of it.

Second, and even more fundamental, the city and the DMCC don't seem to see the same "vision" when they look at what the "vision" in the urban swatches of the DMC plan. Here a visual aid might help:

The image on the left depicts the DMC vision for "St. Mary's Place" along 2nd Street SW. At the meeting this district was described by DMC EDA staff as a "a warm, welcoming gateway into the downtown".

The image on the right depicts the city council president's recent statement (see video 02:20) regarding his reaction to the DMC plan saying, "Some of the renderings I sometimes jokingly refer to as 'George Jetson' renderings...."**

No wonder where the city sees "generous landscaping" board members see something less than that. It cannot be reassuring to have one's very expensive plan reduced to a cartoon.

Mr Campbell is correct in saying this is where the rubber meets the road. Given the condition of some Rochester streets in other recently developed parts of our city that does not bode well for a smooth ride.

The wheels of government being out of alignment won't help much either.

Finally, if I may: The concern I would raise regarding this project is that approval would condemn us and our descendants to endless decades of having this conversation:

“Meet me at the Holiday Inn on 2nd.” “Which one?”



*  The video of the 12.17.16 DMCC board meeting is available here. The public comments referenced above begin at 07:15. The DMC TIF request discussion begins at around the two hour mark: 02.00.00. (by the way, it's interesting to watch this with the sound off especially at about 02.07.25. 

** For readers needing a George Jetson reference see.

If you are interested in learning more about this issue and sharing your views, you might attend this public forum that will provide a history of the corridor, some lessons on the challenges of urban design, the opportunity for input on critical elements, and a chance to interact with local leaders:

Midtown Conversations: The Future of 2nd Street SW
Thursday, January 21 at 7 PM
Forager Brewing Company 1005 6th St NW, Rochester, Minnesota 55901

Friday, January 8, 2016

"...America's City for Health..."

Consider this vision: The world's destination medical center residing in the world's healthiest city. It conceives an achievement well within the reach of this city, poised as we are for an even greater abundance of talent, resources, assets, and a habit of concerted effort. It anticipates a future few other cities could dare even to contemplate. It calls to all sectors of our economy and public life. It requires attention to all our communities and neighborhoods, for all will be required. This vision brings to the next two decades of development a shared horizon toward which all of us can journey, for it requires all of us to get there. - Dave Beal, "Vision for DMC must go beyond buildings and jobs," Post Bulletin, October 12, 2013

"...a compelling vision..."

Yep, I am quoting myself. At the time, I was commenting upon the DMCC board's recently issued "Statement of Public Purpose" which included as its first goal, ""Create a comprehensive strategic plan with a compelling vision that harnesses the energy and creativity of the entire community." At that September 16, 2013 DMCC board meeting, board member Bill George suggested that health and wellness might serve as the basis for this compelling vision. I wholeheartedly agreed then and still do.

About a year and a half later at its January 29, 2015 meeting the DMCC board adopted a mission statement that listed the goals from its earlier "Statement of Public Purpose" beneath this sentence:
With Mayo Clinic at its heart, the Destination Medical Center (DMC) initiative will be the catalyst to position Rochester, Minn. as the world’s premier destination center for health and wellness; attracting people, investment and jobs to America’s City for Health and supporting the economic growth and its biosciences sector.
As I recall the drafting committee for this new mission statement included three board members - including Bill George - and it reads like each of them got a clause. But, it does include an appellation of Rochester as "America's City for Health".

"...did I miss something...or what?"

About another year later, at the most recent December 17, 2015 meeting of the DMCC board, "America's City for Health" once again enters the conversation as something of an aside during a DMC EDA's report on providing the metrics, measurements, and ongoing reporting called for in the DMC plan (see p. 44). After the staff report, board member Hruska wondered whatever became of "America's City for Health" because they haven't really talked about it: "...did I miss something...or what?"*

Staff had two answers: (1) EDA has just finished it's RFP process for its marketing firm and they will be selecting a firm very soon; and, (2) EDA is talking to various groups throughout the state and the nation about city for health, etc. In other words, in emblematic EDA form "we're hiring a consultant and everyone's talking about us!" Staff concluded by saying they intended all along to get back to the board on the whole "America's City for Health" thing so no worries - how about March?

"...we have this unique opportunity..."

Fortunately, DMCC board members continue to be way ahead of staff and were much more substantive in sharing their expectations of how to proceed. In quick succession they identified three guideposts for what, why, and how to ensure that "America's City for Health" results in more than just a marketing differentiation strategy, DMC positioning statement, and a new sign at the city limits.

To wit:
1. Policies and project approval should include social and health impacts.
Chairperson Tina Smith: "...[W]e have this unique opportunity to tie it specifically and tangibly to what we are trying to build that that we have...a health and wellness based place rather than just a virtual idea of it."
2. Metrics should promote and sustain a healthy and inclusive community.
Board member Bill George: "...[T]his gives us the opportunity...looking at all the things we can do to help people in our community...make this a community that serves all its citizens and that would really make us a national model"
3. Community and social service providers should have an integral role in DMC implementation.
Vice-Chairperson R.T. Rybak: "We need to get a little clarity on what our role is in it. Does this body own the city for health or are we a participant in it?... I think frankly there needs to be another table in which we are active participants. Somehow we have to create that table...."

"...if anybody can do it you should be able to do it in Rochester..."

Mayor Rybak may be happy - and surprised - to learn that "other" community tables actually do exist; have existed in one form or another for a few years; and, that DMC Mayo staff and recently DMC EDA staff have occasionally dropped by to sit at these tables.

There's the table "hosted" by the Olmsted County Public Health Community Health Need Assessment/ Community Health Improvement Plan. There's the table hosted by the Community Networking Group (CNG) private, nonprofit and public human and social service providers, local philanthropies, and elected official. I might even include the more recent table set by In the City for Good.

Last year, during their public hearings prior to the approval of the DMC plan, the city and DMCC board both heard from those "tables".  For example, from May 1, 2015 this:
As the DMCC board and its Economic Development Agency implement the development plan to establish Rochester as a Destination Medical Center, we believe they should work with the community to create: 
1. Policies that bring potential health and social impacts into the decision-making process. 
2. Project approval criteria that evaluate the potential health and social impacts of a project before it is built. 
3. Metrics that gauge progress toward positive health and social outcomes that promote and sustain an inclusive and healthy community. 
We believe the concerns and recommendations we presented to the DMCC board at its recent public hearing were well-received. The agencies and organizations that provide community and social services need to play an integral role in the implementation of the DMC plan as well as the other planning initiatives now underway.
It is is encouraging to hear DMCC board members appearing to align with these long-standing and on-going community conversations. Likewise, it is promising that DMC EDA Director of Economic Development and Placemaking  Patrick Seeb brings to his position a familiarity with what building healthy urban environments and communities entails .

Finally, as I wrote over two years ago regarding the prospects for Rochester becoming "America's City for Health,": "We are not that city yet, but we could be."


* You can view the video of the DMCC 12.17.2014 meeting here. The discussion of "America's City for Health" occurs at approximately time marks 01.53 - 02.00.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Nativity: a catalog of glad tidings for Rochester

The miracle that saves the world, the realm of human affairs, from its normal, "natural" ruin is ultimately the fact of natality, in which the faculty of action is ontologically rooted. It is, in other words, the birth of new men and the new beginning, the action they are capable of by virtue of being born. Only the full experience of this capacity can bestow upon human affairs faith and hope.... It is this faith in and hope for the world that found perhaps its most glorious and most succinct expression in the few words with which the Gospels announced their "glad tidings": "A child has been born unto us." - Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Our planet’s axial tilt cycles our seasons bringing to each cycle a winter solstice. The Gregorian calendar measures out for us (for here and now at least) our civil days and dates. Both of these means of marking time mark this time of year and specifically this date as the beginning of a new year.

For all this season's holidays, with all their varied religious and spiritual sources, many find their origins in appropriated Neolithic celebrations of solar rebirth. From the cold ruin of deep winter, new hope rose on the horizon just where a redeemed sun was marked to appear. We continue to mark the passing year and reckon its passing by that natural horizon. We continue to look to other human horizons for signs of what each new born year might bring.

Of late we are given as a people to making lists. Here’s mine:

A personal catalog recognizing people, groups, places, etc. that for me register the new. Not just new last year, (though some are); or, new in the coming year (though some will be). While some entries on the list are indeed new to Rochester, others are creating something new, or bringing forth something new, or appearing to us in new ways.

Business enterprises that give voice to intentional strategies for positive social impact: 
Annie Henderson and Sean Allen, Forager Brewery/Kutzky Market; Adam Ferrari, 9.Square and Design Rochester; Patrick Seeb, DMC Economic Development Agency; Jamie Sundsbak, BioAM 
The new voice each brings to our public life: 
Nick Campion, Rochester City Council; Kolloh Nimley, Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage; Megan Johnston, Rochester Art Center
Connections amid the connectedness of our shared lives:
BioAM; The Commission; In the City for Good
Intentional spaces where ideas and the people who carry them around collide:
Forager Brewery/Kutzky Market; CafĂ© Steam 
Something new with the expressed intent of bringing forth new voices:
Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department comprehensive plan community engagement workshops; Rochester Arts and Culture Collaborative; In the Shadow of Growth forums; TedX Zumbro River 
The place most sorely in need of new:
Rochester City Council 
Bringing to us these “news” as news:
Sean Baker at the The Med City Beat; Taylor Nachtigal and Andrew Setterholm at the Post Bulletin

Hannah Arendt believed that the source of the new in the world was simply and profoundly that new people are born: “the new beginning inherent in birth can make itself felt in the world only because the newcomer possesses the capacity of beginning something anew….” There is something to be said for appreciating that the new comes as if of its own accord, comes because we bring new people into the world, comes when these new people show up or step up or stand up.