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Creating new paradigms for local leadership in America.

This article previously appeared in "Connections," the quarterly of the California Healthy Cities Project.

City governments have always tried to create "healthy" communities through physical planning and community services. These traditional approaches have been called into question due to the growing contradiction of escalating social needs yet decreasing fiscal resources.

Changing Realities

In the late 1980's and early 1990's, changing realities have begun to overwhelm our existing approaches for providing service delivery systems such as police, fire, maintenance, and recreation. Just a few of these new realities include:

* Alternative family structures with different needs

* Increasing ethnic diversity

* "Senseless" crime and violence

* Parks, liabilities, and community centers that have been closed or overwhelmed by gangs, the homeless, or latchkey children

* "Throw-away" children and elderly

* Taxpayer revolts

* Communities that have degenerated into a mere collection of "special interests" with no sense of common purpose

These realities contradict our existing paradigms.

Busting Our Paradigms

According to Thomas Kuhn in his seminal book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, a paradigm is a set of inter-related "facts' or assumptions, a worldview of how things work. A paradigm remains "dominant" as long as it explains observed phenomena and helps solve problems. However, as new phenomena occur and challenge our perceptions of reality, we begin to doubt our existing paradigms and search for new ways of explaining reality and solving problems.

Our cities' traditional service delivery paradigms are now being challenged. We can no longer afford libraries which merely check our books; police departments which rely on patrol cars responding to "911" calls for help; planning departments that merely focus on land use and the physical environment; and recreation programs that emphasize throwing out the ball and bats to kids who frequent playgrounds and parks. These are activity based paradigms that require lots of labor and fail to sufficiently emphasize human development and community building outcomes. Consequently, we in local government need to "bust our paradigms."

To start, local governments need to refocus their missions, emphasizing programs that generate family wellness and individual self-esteem; feelings of safety, accomplishment, and fulfillment; a sense of connectedness and community; life-long learning; joy; and even love. Police departments are now organizing "community policing" programs that deal with the root causes of crime and violence.

Just as police officers have been liberated from their police cars, recreation leaders are now venturing from parks into neighborhoods and organizing task forces that deal with conflicts between new immigrant arrivals and established residents, overcrowded housing, gangs and the needs of the unemployed. Planning departments are going beyond zoning to promote "sustainable" development that preserves natural resources. Cultural arts programs are being re-focused to use aesthetics and amenities to market cities and promote economic development. Libraries are turning reference desks into business resource centers.

Finally, city and county governments are partnering with business groups, foundations, non-profit schools, and church and civic groups of all kinds. Since hiring more public employees is no longer financially feasible, we are re-training our staff and hiring different kinds of staff as well as restructuring our organizations as our paradigms shift. In addition to actually delivering services, city employees are now advocating, facilitating and brokering services; organizing neighborhoods; and empowering residents.

Windows of Opportunities

The fiscal and social crises facing our cities challenge our existing ways of doing business. These crises also offer windows of opportunities if these are perceived and seized by public and private leaders. In these tumultuous times, city governments can jettison old, tired and ritualistic services and activities and create new paradigms that truly respond to human needs and fiscal realities.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:article reprinted from 'Connections'
Author:Benest, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 30, 1993
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