Government officials need to be willing to take risks to bring change to their cities. And residents need to support them when they do. Jarrett Walker called attention to video of D.C. planning director Harriet Tregoning addressing an Urban Land Institute event in October:
Planning directors, if they don’t push to change anything, they might have job security, but literally nothing changes in their city. They look behind them and there’s nobody behind them. In the job you’re constantly out there pushing, but not so hard that no one is willing to support what you’re trying to do.
Government is risk averse, right? I mean, really risk averse, and fearful of failure, because you might end up on the front page of the Washington Post.
But I think more and more cities are coming to recognize that not only is it important that they have innovators in their cities but that they be innovators, and be willing to try new things. And if they fail, fail fast.
She then talks about how Capital Bikeshare is actually D.C.’s second bike-sharing system, which we put in after the first, SmartBike, wasn’t a success. She concludes, “Innovation is about failing. You have to fail sometimes, otherwise you’re not trying hard enough to do something interesting, and there has to be some tolerance for it.”
One clear prerequisite for a government official to be pushing for change is having a boss who understands this. An official is going to take action and some people will be upset. Does the boss (whether a mid-level manager, agency director or mayor) just rebuke the employee simply because his or her actions generated angry emails? Or does he or she look more deeply at the issue to determine whether the employee is actually doing something good?
This tolerance also has to apply to the public. When we look at a project like a new bike lane, very soon after it opens you see blog comments and press articles about whether it’s a success or failure. But the 15th Street bike lane started out as one-way, and DDOT then switched it to two-way. Pennsylvania Avenue still needs fixes to stop U-turns.
[Continue reading David Alpert’s post at Greater Greater Washington.]
David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.