A call from some clients highlights that using the tactic of calling for a “Time-Out” is just plain common sense! . . . Provided you HAVE common sense.

When a Feel-Good Project Turns Ugly

A couple of friends – one working for a federal agency, the other serving on a politically appointed local planning board – had been doing what they could to encourage a group of volunteers (members of a Rotary club) to tackle a problem that the town government had been neglecting for too long.

The problem/opportunity: a neglected, even abused, riverfront area.

You’d think that trying to figure out how to stop the erosion, protect other important riparian qualities, and exploring how to make the most of the potential the riverfront offers to enhance the town . . . and its residents’ quality of life . . . would be such a feel-good planning effort that it wouldn’t create much controversy. (Yes, we know, we DO teach that “every solution to a problem will HURT some interests.” But, get real, who is going to oppose THIS kind of planning effort?)

Well – you guessed it – a handful of people became fairly unglued, . . . felt threatened, . . . got quite polarized, . . . dug in their heels, and set off a raucous of protests!

What to Do When Things Turns to Chaos

Our friends, (one of whom happens to be a former student of Hans’ Graduate Community and Regional Planning program at the University of Wyoming), felt that the thing to do was to:

Step back,

  • Help the community explore:
  • Is there really a problem/opportunity that needs to be addressed? . . . Or, is it OK to continue to ignore/abuse the riverfront?
  • If the situation DOES constitute a problem/opportunity, whose responsibility is it to tackle it? . . . (Another way to put this: “Have we – the town – behaved responsibly? . . . Or, have we been dropping the ball?”)

An important caution (from the Bleikers): Don’t rush into solutions . . . Don’t do ANYTHING else. Until the community has come to terms with these questions.

In short, what our friends proposed is EXACTLY what we would have proposed: A “Time-Out.” Even though the protests didn’t seem entirely rational considering the work (i.e. improvements) being proposed,,to ignore them would be a serious mistake.

Although they didn’t call it a “Time-Out,” that’s what stepping back and focusing on the questions “IS there a problem?” . . . And, “IF there IS a problem, WHOSE responsibility is it to do something about it?” amounts to.

When some potentially affected interests go ballistic for no obvious reason . . . When their hard-to-understand behavior derails – or threatens to derail – the planning process, you’ve got to get people back to basics:

Strong, clear answers to these questions form the basis of legitimate planning and give a great example for why calling a “Time Out” is nothing but common sense!

  • IS there a problem/opportunity? . . . One that really HAS to be addressed?
  • IF there IS a problem, who is the appropriate entity to address it? . . .(i.e. Whose mission is it to tackle it?)