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Planning for the Future

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Evelyn Trammell
August 12, 2016

hands-1273148_640Planning for the future is a concept that can be broadly construed and be implemented differently as its complexity may require. A key attribute of city planning, which shares commonalities across various local governments nationwide, consists of preserving the community, sustaining the community and ensuring the community has a future. As the custodian of the community, local government needs to be responsive to a dynamic environment. This sense of responsibility allows them to become directly familiar with the needs of the community and also be held accountable in meeting these needs.

An ideal way to meet the needs of a community while planning for the future is through the practice of sustainability. Previous literature, inclusive of pieces by Carroll, Fiorino, Schneider & Wallenburg and Wang et. al, describes three spheres of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. Such sustainable practices can span across various facets of government operations including transportation, construction, planning, parks and recreation and procurement, which can all operate to meet social, environmental and economic goals.

All processes in government eventually require coordination and involvement with procurement, which is inclusive of contracting. Hence, procurement can be used as a tool to pursue sustainability in efforts to plan and prepare for the future. Public procurement can incorporate economic, social and environmental requirements in the purchasing of goods and services through direct buys or contracting as it relates to general government operations, construction or maintenance of infrastructure and other planning activities. Examples of specifications that can achieve sustainable results include requiring usage of green products, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified construction of buildings and renewable energy.

Preference can also be given to women-owned, minority-owned or veteran-owned businesses. Additionally, contract specifications can require living wages and/or health insurance be provided to laborers that are employed by parties to the contract. Such contract specifications need to be implemented with the goal of resilience in mind. Just as environmental, economic and societal issues are constantly evolving, so should an organization’s resilience policies. Policies should be adapted to meet today’s needs, while enabling planning for the future of the organization and the community.

Resilience of a community is a topic commonly included in discussions of sustainability. Sustainability and resilience go hand in hand. They can be applied to all facets of government operations. Resilience is the ability of a community to recover better and stronger than it was before. This is also an important consideration in planning for the future.

Capacity and focus may vary from city to city. For example, effects of climate change may lead California and Oregon governments to focus on their drier landscapes that are ripe terrains for fires to spread, while Florida governments may focus on sea level rise. While communities may prioritize focus based on risks and feasibility, communities cannot be resilient if they are only prepared in one area and not others.

Planning for the future takes implementation of strategies of sustainability and resilience. When engaging in sustainable practices, resilience must also be included in the plan if a community intends to succeed for future generations. It is common for resiliency to be reached through sustainability. For example, Miami-Dade County’s resilience program operates by means of a sustainability plan. This sustainability plan recognizes that planning for the future is not only the responsibility of the government. Instead, it is the responsibility of the entire community. The county’s plan is a collaborative effort between stakeholders such as community groups, business experts and county employees. The focus of this sustainability plan is on environmental components. It addresses issues of greenhouse emissions, climate change and energy. Broward County similarly works toward resilience through an energy and sustainability program. This program mirrors that of Miami-Dade County with a focus on the environment.

The question in this discussion of sustainability and resilience is how to achieve these while collectively addressing environmental, economic and social spheres. While governments across the nation are taking steps to address issues impacting their communities, preserving, sustaining and planning for the future will require a collective and collaborative plan of action. As previously mentioned, there are communities that have exemplified attributes of this, but planning does not stop there.

Issues of sustainability and resilience are evolving and should be addressed as such. This article is not meant to provide the solutions. Issues of sustainability and resilience are complex and would require far more than this article can provide. However, this article is meant to be food for thought on how communities should shift their focus and not only operate to function in the present time to meet current needs, but operate so they can function in the future. 

Author: Evelyn Trammell is a doctoral student in the public affairs program at Florida International University. She has a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in International Relations and Religious Studies, a Master’s in Public Administration and a Certificate in Public Procurement. She has five years of experience in municipal government employed with the City of Sunny Isles Beach. Email: [email protected].

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One Response to Planning for the Future

  1. Dr David Hamilton Reply

    August 12, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Focusing on the future is an important community function that is often attempted but poorly executed. I was intrigued by the concept of resiliency added to the planning process. Sustainability does go ‘hand in hand, as you state but they are not the same thing. Combined, they determine capacity. Thank you for pointing this out.

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