A fatal flaw in the city’s 2030 Strategic Plan process is its total neglect of constraints. The draft document’s list of goals, objectives and action items is a helter-skelter wish list of nice-to-have projects and programs that are supposed to form the basis for the realization of a so-called city vision. None of the end-product action items are costed.
In the real world, we labor under constraints. Our spending is constrained by our income. And what we can buy with our income is constrained by the cost of stuff we buy. The city’s strategic plan nowhere recognizes any budgetary constraint. It provides no projections of likely future city budgets. And with no costing of any of the list of action items, it cannot even provide the basis for discussing priorities or feasibility.
Another constraint the city labors under is the capacity of its staff. What is it realistic to expect them to be able to perform, and foresee? And in what areas is city action the best way to accomplish a result?
A third ignored constraint is the city’s jurisdiction, its legal power. Some of the plan’s action item projects are outside the city limits, or under the control of county or state agencies, or none at all.
What are we to make of a city strategic plan that is completely uncosted, that ignores the taxable capacity of its citizens and businesses and hence feasible city spending, and that ignores the city’s powers?
Alain Bertaud, a veteran city planner now based at New York University, has written that these 10-year plans are “a fossil left over from the time when the planning practices of command economies fascinated the world.” We aren’t a command economy. Cities are really bottom-up affairs, shaped mostly by individuals and companies spending decisions, and the markets that facilitate them. The role of city officials to foresee, plan and implement is limited. Rather than these 10-year plans, Bertaud says “It would make more sense for cities to monitor data and indicators in real-time and to adjust policy and investments according to what works and what does not, rather than waiting 10 years to assess results and eventually [change] direction.”