It's nice to see Don Harrison pull his head out of whatever he does for a living long enough to post on some recent developments at Save Richmond. His posts usually set me to thinking about the incredibly dysfunctional power relationships in the Richmond region -- between the private and public sectors, between politicians and the communities they represent, between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.
Most of the dysfunction is rooted in the past, rooted in habit and not easily changed. But the disconnect in these relationships is high on the list of those things that are not only holding us back as a region, but is also what continues to eat away at what passes for civic health -- not only in the greater Richmond region, but within our neighborhood communities.
At the heart of all of these relationships is the nature of citizenship -- what it means for individuals and organizations within a community to actively hold, believe or support something larger (even slightly larger) than their own interests. This is something that sat at the center of a workshop I attended last fall with community advocate Peter Block.
True accountability hinges on the choice to care for the whole thing, Block said. I've sat in plenty of private meetings with regional players -- politicians, business people and residents -- where there was an active desire to care for the whole thing, and to speak passionately about the city, the region, the school system, the James River, the issue of affordable housing, you name it.
But something happens when people move from private conversation into the public space. And Block spoke to that, as well -- What kills the future isn't opposition, it's lip service.
All of this leads me to an emerging organization in the region called the Capital Region Collaborative, which I spoke to the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce's Jim Dunn about back in April. In recent weeks, more information has been revealed about the collaborative, and Don Harrison at Save Richmond recently asked some relevant questions and concerns about the new regional group.
Save Richmond sees shades of Mayor Wilder's Performing Arts Committee in the creation of this new group, especially since attorney Robert Grey will be leading the new collaborative -- and chaired the mayor's incredibly secretive arts committee. But Harrison's key point is how he ends his post -- whether or not the Capital Region Collaborative will lead the region down a new path.
Lacking details, it's a tough call. Certainly, I believe the intentions of the key players behind the CRC and have discussed the new organization with a few of them. Unlike some on the sidelines, I don't see the politics and power struggles in the region as being a matter of good versus evil -- in most cases, people are driven by what they know and what they want.
What I do see is that even the good intentions behind the CRC run the risk of being co-opted by old habits. In its efforts to avoid "jumping off the cliff," as Dunn puts it, the organizers behind the CRC are setting an early tone for the organization of a top-down, consensus-driven body. Lots of preliminary planning meetings coupled with dog-and-pony shows to invite regional leaders to get on board with the new organization builds on one of the worst habits exhibited by Richmond's leaders over the years -- the sense that buy-in trumps vision, transparency and discussion.
If I were masterminding an organization like the CRC, one of the first things I would do would be to issue an invitation to area businesses, community and civic groups, non-profits and elected officials to a series of conversations about creating a shared future. Again, I turn to Block -- The only ethical use of power is the leader as a host, a convener, one who invites others ... knowing that your job as a leader is to help bring the gifts of those on the margins to the center.
For too long, regional conversations have limited the gifts of those on the margins. That the reason for this is primarily that those leading the conversations don't believe that those on the margins have an interest in being engaged goes a long way toward explaining why our progress as a community remains fragmented.