As you know, I’m an urban designer and landscape architect — sometimes referred to as a “planner.” But you may not know what I actually do.
A lot of the work in my profession is provided by the business owners and developers navigating the government processes for development. It’s an onerous process that’s often secondhand work for the conventional development projects. Our company does a fair share of the conventional projects, but we tend to differ from other companies with projects that are, shall we say, “less-than conventional.”
Unique projects, those that add great community value, are our specialty, but they are far from easy when navigating the governmental and political processes. My favorite ones, though, are those that come from a willing and passionate partnership with the government.
We had an occurrence a couple of years ago, when a government employee stepped away from the “red tape” and asked their colleagues to “find a way to yes.” The deliberate manner in which that statement was made was shocking and refreshing at the same time. This isn't to say that all government employees have a roll of bureaucracy in their pocket ready to break out at any point in time, in fact I feel that we have a good number who are pretty great of taking down the barrier. But this gesture was the epitome of what government employees should do.
We’ve grown accustomed to the typical lazy response of “no, unless…” or even sometimes simply “no.” But this unhealthy habit has turned more than a handful of developers who want to do great things in our community away, seeing the process as taking too long to make it worthwhile. They either go somewhere else, or adopt a vanilla version of the project that’ll have a quicker process. I don’t believe that this is the outcome intended by city codes, at least I hope not.
I understand all too well that there are often reasons why the rules are in place, there’s a reason for everything. I don't come into a project presuming to know all the answers, or with an expectation of instant approval (well sometimes I do), but it's too easy for a government employee to say no. The system favors flying under the radar. After all, if the answer is always no or a riddle of excuses leading to a no, the general public doesn't get upset and backlash is minimal, but that community will not evolve. The status quo will continue.
Now, I don't believe in the principle that government should be run like a business. However, there are instances, such as customer service, where the philosophy can be applied.
In business, the client, customer, etc. is always right. Professionally, on the private side of the table, we exhaust several alternatives to accommodate the client's goal while guiding a project through the process. We offer suggestions, alterations and potential solutions to meet in the middle with hopes of having a successful outcome. We rarely say no, but offer up ways to get to yes.
I know that we can get there in the Pikes Peak Region — it starts with leadership allowing their staff to innovate and think rather than starting with “no.” We have new leadership in place today in Colorado Springs and I believe that we can find a way to “yes.”
John Olson is a licensed Landscape Architect, working and residing in Colorado Springs. He serves as the Director of Urban Design and Landscape for Altitude Land Consultants, formerly doing business as EV Studio Civil Engineering + Planning. He has a strong passion for our region and directs it through the business and the non-profit, Colorado Springs Urban Intervention.