Matching reality to situation in the pursuit of economic prosperity in New Orleans

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Matching reality to situation in the pursuit of economic prosperity in New Orleans

As far as American cities go, New Orleans is about as unique as they come. Within this uniqueness lie six interwoven patterns which set the context for the city. These patterns, many of which are recognizable are described as a community with constrained public sector resources, limited diversity in its economy, strong neighborhood identity, systemic social and economic challenges, an organic culture which serves as the glue that holds the city together and achieving holistic community development in light of hurricane Katrina. The paradox inherent in these patterns is the fact that to ignore any one of them as part of a strategy (through either enhancement or mitigation) in the city’s path toward economic prosperity is to hinder its ability to reach its full potential.

However, let’s be clear, of the patterns described, the social and economic challenges facing the city have the potential to rupture its ability of reaching its full potential given its far reaching impact on just about every sector in the city. The problem with this assertion is that depending on what lens you’re looking through and whom you are speaking you may get answers of varying degrees as to what the systemic social and economic challenges are. So, in this context how do we get to a breakeven point where we agree as to what those issues are and begin to develop a plan with concrete action steps?

If you were to ask me, this breakthrough can come from the combination of four powerful forces converging to accelerate the community effort. These forces are a hyper engaged citizenry, public and private sectors supporting the charge, an aligned policy agenda which sets the strategy context to wage war against social and economic challenges and a means to measure progress toward this goal to ensure continued community alignment for years to come.

Maybe I am wrong, but, anything short of this type of aggressive strategy is simply running the same old tired play book which continues to get us what we have gotten over and over again.

Why even talk about this? I am talking about this because as citizens we have an important role to play along with the public and private sector in the battle for economic prosperity for NOLA. This battle is won as an entire community and the war is about the attraction of good jobs, resources and talent.

It requires all hands on deck to ensure we are competitive now and well into the future. For example, imagine going to war with a significant portion of your troops (in this case segments of our local population and neighborhoods constrained socially and economically) either wounded economically or just too weak to fight due in large part to broken spirits, hopelessness and disengagement from community life. Imagine what this does to our GDP position and ability to effectively compete as a city? It’s safe to save we leave a lot of economic potential on the table that can assist our community in the economic battle for resources.

So, how do we get there? As a community, we move toward collective community action by accurately defining our situation and working relentlessly to pick the right strategy that will move us toward becoming a community of collective action in this war.

These strategies range from a community in realignment, sustaining success, accelerating growth, complete turnaround or combination thereof. Whatever the situation, it’s important that we accurately gauge where we are so we can develop the appropriate community battle plan which matches reality with the situation. To get this critical aspect wrong may lead to the community minimizing its ability to solve its own problems effectively and limit its potential.

As against the grain as it may sound, the most effective way to win this war is to meet people where they are presently. The only strategies that can gain traction are those that are shared as a community.  The key will be to listen closely to the hopes and dreams of people as they exist today. Great communities have the capacity and ability to do so and are able to bring their people forward into the future and as a result manage pressing community issues. This is where we as a community should be headed and not distracted by ancillary issues that do not do so.

Dr. Eric Anthony Johnson

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