Thursday, January 6, 2011

Redistricting inside the lines.

Consultants are everywhere. Before making a difficult (politically risky) decision, governing bodies bring in the objective expert, who researches and opines, then presents well supported recommendations that said governing bodies can then hold like a shield before constituents.

1. Consultants put together the smart-%$$ Dunwoody branding that it appears we'll have to live with until all parties feel they've gotten their money's worth.

2. Consultants have been guiding long-range planning for development of key city areas. Anyone who has been part of the sounding boards or surveys quickly figured out certain preferences by the consultants would make it into the recommendations, no matter what the survey responses might be. For example, residents said "no" to multi-storied multi-family residential development in the Dunwoody Village area. Behold, the mixed use concept advocated by the consultants in the concept stage looks like a done deal in the final recommendations. (My favorite argument: that residences should be part of the "city center." The city center is surrounded by residential neighborhoods.)

3. Consultants have told the DeKalb School Board that redistricting should include carving some neighborhoods within the city limits of Dunwoody and sending those children to schools in Chamblee. While the expected fire storm rages among elementary school parents who care much more about their children's K-5 experience than the high school that is FAR more important, this particular recommendation is just wrong. Hopefully, the Dunwoody Cluster Charter Schools effort will bring those neighborhoods back into the fold.

Strategic planning is an exhausting, somewhat surreal, and often ineffective process. Wading through everyone's opinions, trying to find consensus, putting a human face on statistics, denying facts because they don't fit someone's goals, trying to discern longrange implications of each decision, and often dismissing the resulting plan because a key decision maker decides it isn't the right direction: if you've ever been part of a strategic planning committee, you know how deeply frustrating the work can be. So I have a lot of empathy for the Dunwoody City Council, the DeKalb School Board, the Dunwoody Charter Cluster committee, and all the civic organizations I've served through the years.

There are so many strategic plans in the air right now it's hard to focus on the essentials, but focusing is imperative. Do we want multi-storied buildings looming over residential neighborhoods? Should parts of Dunwoody see their kids traveling to Chamblee for school? Will local schools actually use the freedoms and opportunities of a charter document or bow to the neverending pressure of the county administration to use its preferred curricula, textbooks, class structure, etc.? Can we get rid of Georgia's failing New Math curriculum like Fulton County and other school systems have already done? Which college (or this?) will my son choose and will he finish all of his scholarship applications in time? (Okay, that's a Knitternall family strategic plan.) How effective is a plan if there's no money to make it happen? And on and on and on.

I am grateful for people who tirelessly dig into the strategic planning process because it is an essential step in preparing for change of any kind. And I've worked with consultants who have been highly effective in guiding committees from free-for-all brainstorming to solid, well grounded goals and strategies.

Ten years from now, the political, commercial, residential, educational, and social landscape in Dunwoody will be dramatically different from what it is today.  All this strategic pain will be a memory, and new residents will have no clue how much work went into the quality of life we all enjoy.

At least, that's what I hope.

1 comment:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts - it's great to hear from you!