After attending the last Transform Rockford community visioning session last night, I wrote a post describing the event. For the sake of brevity (or my feeble attempt at it) I didn’t really give much commentary on the organization itself. I am never short on opinions, so I know my readers would be disappointed if they didn’t get to hear my views on Transform Rockford.
As an introduction, I’ll admit I went to this meeting with much skepticism. I didn’t want to actually make a judgement without attending at least one event, but I was cynical, to say the least. The event turned out to be thought-provoking and I have a better understanding of the movement now.
I had been perplexed about the catalyst, and more importantly, the funding for Transform Rockford. As I mentioned in my previous post, Transform Rockford has really good organization and design. This doesn’t happen by accident. I’ve been involved with many different groups, and I know that it takes intention and resources to pull something like this together. Last night, in talking to one of the organizers, I discovered Transform Rockford is essentially the brainchild of leaders at Woodward Governor, an international aerospace & industrial company based in Rockford. Apparently after Woodward Governor decided to expand their facilities here in Rockford, they realized it was also an opportunity to invest in the community as well. I just did a little research on this and found an article from WTVO which gives more details about the beginning of Transform Rockford. So especially, after seeing their “steering committee” is composed of individuals from a variety of businesses in this area, I was quite happy to know there are private enterprises backing Transform Rockford.
In stepping back and thinking about Transform Rockford, I really applaud their initiative and commitment to this area. So far they aren’t offering the same trite and failed answers like, “the government should solve this,” but seem open to any solutions. It is far less political than it is social. Transform Rockford right now is about us, as the community, and what we want to see in the future. This is also why I appreciated their efforts to reach the entire community, geographically and socially. Their commitment to this concept was reflected in the meeting—there was no agenda to be pushed, it was simply an opportunity to express and collaborate on our views about the community.
Despite all these positive aspects, the jury is still out for me on Transform Rockford. After the meeting last night, I was asking one of the organizers some questions about the group. My primary question was, “how will this transformation be funded?” And the answer was, quite honestly, “I don’t know.” At this point they are just moving into defining the strategy—everything up to now has been about describing and identifying our vision for the future. Now comes the tricky part…how to make that vision real.
And that’s my primary concern with Transform Rockford. I am glad it’s a voluntary way for the community to unite and promote a better future. That’s something I can totally get behind. But really, who couldn’t? Because so far Transform Rockford has just communicated the dire straits we face (9th most dangerous city, underwater mortgage capital of the U.S., 10.3% unemployment, etc…) and provided a platform for people to express what they want to see in our future. Themes identified last night included promotion of life-long learning, better jobs and diversity of employment opportunities, equal access to infrastructure and transportation, reduced poverty, a culturally developed city, sense of identity and community belonging, and the list goes on. Of course everyone is going to have different valuations of these goals, but who would say that we don’t need to improve the education system? Or that the unemployment rate is just fine? Or that it is cool to be the 9th most dangerous city in the United States? Everything mentioned at last night’s meeting, and I’d guess in the past months of events, seem rather obvious. The idea of the community coming together to identify our vision is new, but nothing else seems to be.
Also, last night’s focus on specific items and issues without understanding their cause was frustrating to me. For instance, no one is happy about the high unemployment rate. But there was no discussion of why it is so high. And there was no recognition that the “living wage” offered as a goal for Rockford is completely incompatible with low unemployment. I am sorry, but we’re never going to see a living wage and low unemployment. The market just doesn’t work that way. And personally, I don’t necessarily want a Rockford with bike paths, a vibrant downtown, and all those other things. I just want a Rockford that’s free enough for entrepreneurs to build cute cafes by the river, if that’s what the market wants. I just want a Rockford that allows people to do what they want. So, from my perspective, most of the problems and goals brought up last night could be solved by having a free society. It wouldn’t make Rockford perfect, but it’d certainly be an improvement over what we have now.
As Transform Rockford moves into the next phase, my questions are:
– How it will it be funded?
– What happens to people who oppose the implementation of these ideas?
This second question came to mind when thinking about the Riverfront development. Sure, that’s a great opportunity to enrich our community and provide economic growth, but at what cost? Let’s say Transform Rockford decides they need to use someone’s property near the river to accomplish their ends. Will it be forcibly taken? Or will the individual’s property be respected, even if it detracts from the “vision” for Rockford? Or, related to the first question, what if they decide to use tax money to fund these projects? Regardless of how much I am behind an idea, I don’t want someone stealing my money to fund it. Transform Rockford obviously has a strong emphasis on community, even including this statement in their Shared Values, “place the greater good of all parts of our region and its transformation ahead of self or organizational interests.” That’s just a bit troubling to me, and I will be watching to see just how far they take this idea. Right now, as a community group, they have no coercive power, but it may not stay that way. The oft-quoted maxim applies to Transform Rockford: “the Devil is in the details.” Time will tell if this movement will maintain their emphasis on the community or if it will turn to the state for solutions.