Henninger: Can future Scottsdale leaders transcend stagnant directional planning?

As we turn the page and head into a new year, Scottsdale residents have installed a new City Council and presumably a fresh set of objectives and goals moving forward for the city.

Don Henninger

Or have they?

The “new” City Council has only one new member. The freshest thing about moving into the new year actually is a result of what we have left behind in the dust: the ended Desert EDGE journey.

The idea that a new year and “new” council means a new set of goals and objectives for the city remains elusive. There is nothing happening to suggest the city won’t continue bumping along from one issue and controversy to another with little insight as to what it all adds up to in the long run. It’s all tactical work with no strategic foresight.

An attempt was made early this century to set a vision or strategic direction for the city, and I dusted off the 16-year-old report to see what came of it. End of the day … not much. A follow-up effort nine years ago pretty much had the same result.

In 2003 a group of civic and business leaders worried about the city’s future partnered with the Morrison Institute at Arizona State University to identify issues that would help shape the direction of the city. They produced a set of questions to offer guidance in setting a strategic map for Scottsdale.

The questions remain valid and basically unanswered to this day. Here are three of them:

Legacy at risk: How can Scottsdale retain and enhance its quality of place?

When this question was created, it warned that other cities were catching up to Scottsdale in the mix of lifestyle amenities they offer. Having outstanding galleries, stadiums and parks is no longer a complete package. Assets that open the door to creativity and entrepreneurship are now just as important.

“Quality of place” means something different than it used to. How will the city compete and retain its legacy?

Redefining greatness: How can Scottsdale shape its niche in a new era?

Scottsdale historically has been able to “skim off the cream” of steady growth in the Valley to create a dynamic city. But today, the city is approaching build-out. A new model for the city’s economic health is now required. What’s it going to look like?

The Scottsdale story: How can the “Three Scottsdales” work together?

Then, as now, it is difficult to engage people who live in the “three Scottsdales” in a conversation about the future of the city as a whole. All three are different, and that could be to the city’s advantage. But that is not happening.

As the report said: the challenge “is to bring the different parts together so that Scottsdale does not become Splitsdale.” How do we do that?

An updated General Plan would help address these issues, and there is talk that the city might take another shot at that in the year ahead. By law, it has to.

In the meantime, here’s an idea. We are only few weeks past the last city election, yet the field already is getting crowded for the next cycle in 2020 when three council seats and the mayor’s office will be up for grabs.

Even though it’s 20 months away, half-a-dozen council candidates say they are running and others are considering it, too. And one if not several more people have set sights on the mayor’s job.

Let’s start posing these questions to the candidates and let them articulate where they see the city headed in the next decade, not just the next 20 months. Let them outline what they want to do, not what they want to prevent. Let them paint a picture of possibilities, not of prevention. Let them talk about progress, not stagnation.

Let’s ask them to start forming a vision for the city’s future.

Editor’s Note: Don Henninger is executive director of the Scottsdale Coalition of Today & Tomorrow and can be reached at Donh@scottsdale.com.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Henninger is executive director of the Scottsdale Coalition of Today & Tomorrow and can be reached at Donh@scottsdale.com. He also serves on the Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA Board of Directors

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