Fredericksburg is an historic city not defined by a single event or time. It has an 18th century downtown where people still work and live today. Many marvel at Fredericksburg's small town character while surrounded by a fast growing urban corridor. It is located between the nation's capital and the state capital on the most traveled corridor on the east coast. The advantages and challenges we face are quite different than those faced by Greenville, SC. But that is not to say we have nothing to learn from them.
We should always take the opportunity to look at how other communities deal with the problems and/or how they have developed as a community. What challenges do they face? What are their priorities? How are they achieving them? I have posted on numerous occasions on how other communities are developing and meeting their challenges. Here are some of the sites for those interested it what is going on elsewhere:
Columbus, GA (Note similarities with Greenville,SC)
For us the focus should not be on the results of what other communities have achieved but rather on how they were achieved and taking those lessons and applying them to meet our unique goals for Fredericksburg.
What Greenville has to show us is a process to achieve our goals-- They started in the 1980s to develop a vision for their city and have committed to moving that vision forward ever since. They recruited new businesses which provided needed revenues and partnership opportunities. Greenville has built strong community partnerships, took on development projects themselves, used unique financing, and dedicated funding to achieve their goals. They took some risks but have remained focused. Understanding this process is what Fredericksburg can learn from Greenville.
Over the years Fredericksburg has come up with a number of "plans" for future development. Most have been rather generic in that the goals were the same as most any community--better paying jobs, neighborhood protection, etc. Most of the focus being on economic development. What has been missing is a true vision for the city. Do we want to maintain our small town feel? How important is the preservation of the city's historic character? How do we, or should we, maintain our uniqueness? What kind of community do we want to be and how do we meet that vision as the city continues to grow?
Yet even with "plans" passed the city continues to react to events rather than implementing goals. We continues to reacts to projects coming forward rather than identifying and recruiting the projects that compliment our goals. We have not committed resources to achieve them.
Even when we looked at trying to encourage development through incentives we failed to focus our efforts and instead opened them up to any business wanting to locate in the city. Incentives should be used as a recruiting tool to meet community goals not a handout to business.
As noted our "vision" for the city to date is focused on future development as opposed to community character which also has an economic component. With all the city's historic assets, trails, and growing arts community, one would expect that tourism would be an important consideration in any future vision for the city. An argument could be made that our development efforts have had a negative impact on tourism as it relates to focus and allocation of resources.
So what next? If we are to embark on drafting a vision for the city where do we start? How do we ensure that the goals set forth are feasible?
First we must understand the challenges faced as well as the advantages to be utilize. The city's history is a great advantage. Getting visitors to come here down a congested highway is a challenge. What are the future needs for basic services such as schools, public safety and public works? We need to understand our needs and what resources we have to commit to them to fully understand what will be required to meet future goals. We also need to understand what other resources are available and at what cost.
We must also realistically evaluate the failures as well as successes of past efforts. We cannot continue putting the best face on everything. We have talked about job creation for years yet the recent Garner study points to loses in jobs in most every category. It will come as no surprise that resources will always be limited. We need to ensure we are getting the best return on investment. We must be focused.
We must also look outside the city to see where we are in the region. What are the future plans for Spotsylvania and Stafford? What impacts will they have on the city? How do we maintain our unique character as it relates to what is going on around us or do we want to copy what they are doing?
Also, as we embark on planning the future of Fredericksburg, we must acknowledge that running the process through consultants and focus groups falls short of what is needed to come up with a focused community vision that can be implemented. Instead of focus groups we need to engage community groups directly for input. Instead of just consultants and staff we need to draw on the knowledge and expertise of those who provide the jobs and visitor experience.
We need to hear directly from Civic Associations, Main Street, Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, the museum and arts community, social services groups. We need to understand their constituent needs to insure they are considered. We also need to draw on their expertise and discuss how their resources, as well as the city's, can be focused on our community vision. You can't get this information in focus groups.
We need to understand the needs, challenges, as well as future plans of the National Park Service, the University of Mary Washington, Chamber of Commerce, the hospital, the development community, and those businesses involved in the tourism industry. We need the practical perspective these organization can provide. They can be a big help in putting our vision into action. In addition to understanding and trying to address their issues we can begin to build those community partnerships which was critical in Greenville's success.
Also, while I do applaud the efforts on behalf of the city by community leaders over the years (I consider myself as part of this group); we need new and younger faces to bring new ideas and perspectives forward.
If we are serious about coming up with vision for Fredericksburg the old ways of consultants, focus groups, and committees that brought us Vision 2000, Concordia, and even JumpStart, need to be put aside for a more comprehensive community approach. A vision with strong support and understanding will give the community a benchmark on which to evaluate the performance of their city government.
I would note that while I have hinted at what my vision is for Fredericksburg I do understand it is ultimately the communities decision. What I hope will come out of any future effort to establish a vision for the city is a truly community vision based on the realities faces, providing clear direction, and identifies the resources we, as a community, are prepared to commit to make that vision a reality.
Comments, questions, suggestions and criticisms welcome.