Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Change Management Mistakes in PDX

I came across an article via Streetsblog at lunch today: The letter and 60 business owners that changed PBOT's mind on 28th Ave - UPDATED that struck me as odd. As someone who works in change management and process improvement, I couldn't imagine being blindsided by a petition signed by that many stakeholders in the process. It's no wonder the initial plan seems to have failed. The right people weren't involved and bought in from the beginning. 

I'm not here to decry the idea - in fact, I think the original idea is a good one, and I'm all for charging market rates for parking in high demand areas. The failure is in the process, not in the intended result. 

What would I have done differently, if I were in charge of getting this bike lane implemented? 

  • Created a list of all important stakeholders - businesses, PDOT, the city, shoppers, neighbors, etc. - and their potential reaction to the proposal
  • Gone out and validated my thoughts by talking to people - getting their concerns and support for the idea
  • Worked hard to find the influencers in the environment, those business owners or others that command respect and could get others to buy in
  • Create solutions to the concerns, and trumpet more of the support, in order to build a greater coalition before taking it to the public

Lots of people would grab traffic data or some other way to prove the correctness of the idea. I don't think that would really work on something as visceral as parking (yes, I feel like people think it is that important). This is primarily an emotional issue and needs to be attacked that way. Remove my parking? You'll scare away my customers!

60 petitioners against the idea shows that the pre-sell wasn't done. One thing I learned early in my career; don't surprise people and ensure everyone knows ALL about it before you take it public. 

Urbanism works. Bike lanes work. However, it has to be sold, not told. 

Maybe the people involved did some of these things. I don't know them, and don't know the process. I do know it'll be very difficult to go back to trying this again in the future.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Stakeholders and Urbanism

I've been following the saga of Opus' new development in St. Louis Central West End for a while now. Background from NextSTL:

Opus Proposes 177 Unit Mixed-Used Project

About your recent rejection

It should be built

In the height of absurdity, neighborhood forces (some refer to them as NIMBY, but I don't think that's correct - they're more aesthetic critics in this case) have made Opus head back to the drawing board several times over things they just don't like. This is a change to the neighborhood, a change to the buildings they may have lived in for years, and something new. For a lot of people, that's scary.

In my day job, I deal with change all the time - whether it's convincing someone to take a new job in continuous improvement, working on a process someone has done for 10 years, or changing our procedures because the law says we have to, it is all change. 

The Opus situation, combined with my experience, led me to thinking about stakeholders in the process. 

Opus: Obviously a stakeholder. They're interested in getting this built and getting a return on their investment. Long term? Probably don't care so much about the area. They're very supportive of any proposal that doesn't cost a ton of money.

CWE Residents: Stakeholders with money on the line, too. If this place were an unmitigated disaster, it might impact their property values. As is, the concerns seem more that it doesn't "fit" and might not be high quality enough for the area. These proposals impact their sense of self in so much as they visualize themselves of a certain status due to where they live. They're suspicious of any proposal that's not perceived as very high quality.

The City: The City would love to have this developed. Unfortunately, I do think often we clamor so for any development that we don't hold development to any standard. However, the CWE does have a form based code, which this meets. I'd rate them neutral on their support/lack of for the project. 

The conflict, to me, comes from one thing - Opus wants to do this in a cost-effective manner, and certain residents want a Chase Park Plaza quality project (one that likely couldn't cash flow) in place. Other concerns like noise, parking, retailers are just secondary - they're behind the big problem which is the "image" of the Central West End.

Opus should look at ways to improve the image of the development that would be low to no cost. Some ideas:

  • Sign up high quality retail tenants that would drive traffic. I'm not chic so I've no clue what is popular, but certainly there's a market in St. Louis for some upscale stores, especially if the developer is helping out with the lease and buildout?
  • Offer streetscaping as part of the proposal. These streets are basic and not very attractive in the area. Maybe Opus could put them on a road diet, or add angled parking, or anything else. I'm not really sure, but it would make the CWE "prettier" at a lower cost that a hugely expensive building.
  • Offer something new to the area. A rooftop bar and restaurant? Those seem popular.

Unfortunately, I see no easy solution to the problem that will satisfy everyone. Someone will go unhappy. That said, if the bulk of the residents support Opus, that should be enough. Holding off on change for a few naysayers is a sure prescription for stagnation. I hope Opus, the city, the preservation board, and all other important stakeholders ignore the true roadblocks.