How Can We Cultivate Transformative Urban Ideas?

Civic Entrepreneurs, or 'Visionistas', are the dedicated, creative, and perhaps a little crazy, citizens who dream up big ideas for transforming a city, or their piece of it. Otis White suggests how we can encourage such dreamers to become doers.

"The first visionista I came to know was Billy Paine, the lawyer who in the late 1980s dreamed up the Atlanta Olympics, then patiently brought the games to life. But there have been many others: Fred Lebow, the man who reinvented the marathon in 1976 by running one through the five boroughs of New York; Joshua David and Robert Hammond, who in the late 1990s saw a long linear park in the sky when they looked at New York's abandoned High Line train trestles; or, more recently, Elisa Beck, who is determined to create a center for sustainability inside an old grocery store on Pittsburgh's South Side."

"What should city officials do with such determined people? And how can you tell the difference between a crazy idea that's a great leap forward and a crazy idea that's just … a crazy idea? My suggestion: Encourage but don't embrace visionistas, at least until they've make their ideas viable. And viability means two things: a significant group of supporters (including financial supporters) and a plan. And the plan has to answer three questions: How will this project be paid for? How will we get the necessary public and private approvals? And how will we explain it to the citizens?"

Full Story: Managing the Visionistas of Urban America


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