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Thread: Sorry, client, the answer is "no"

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Sorry, client, the answer is "no"

    In my work I invariably encounter the client who has a perception or idea that just isn't feasible, but keeps pushing it. The city that thought it could land major distribution centers but was greatly eclipsed by much better located competition ten miles away. The county that thinks it will be the next biotech hotspot because it is an industry targeted by the state and they have a university (tier four, negligible science programs, basically a business and teaching college). And now the client that thinks everything is a tourism asset. Sorry, but I don't see people driving three hours to visit a greenhouse that is no better than a half dozen located within twenty minutes of their home.

    So how do you get a client to face reality? My approach has usually been to show them the data, describe the competition, and reiterate the basic rules of economic development, marketing, tourism, etc. But this does not always work, and I end up moving from discussions about a greenhouse to how there are people interested in cemeteries, the town has cemeteries, and shouldn't they be part of the tourism marketing? Sure, I could include these pipedreams in the strategy, but then, as a consultant I am being hired for my expertise, which tells me that these are a waste of time, effort, and money. My report shuld guide the client to the best possible investments, not to a whim or a "something for everyone" approach that is destined to failure because it produces nothing for anyone.

    Have you faced a similar challenge, or ever realized that you are the one pushing for something impractical? (Actually, as planners I think many of us have been there, advocating for something we would really like to see as planners, but not realizing until later that it was impractical in the current situation.) So how do I get through to these people, or how should I respond if they keep pushing?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. As a transportation planner, I have very little to offer in terms of experiences, but you better hope they have never heard of festival marketplaces, minor league ball parks, or countywide convention centers.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ha....

    Yeah.....ah......all you economic developers out there......every city in the country should be supporting living wages and the middle class. What better way to boost an economy than to have the workers paid enough to live and maybe even buy things. They can talk about all this other "crap" and that is what it is.

    That is all.

    The One in a mood today, nothing to do with Cardinal.....The One LOVES Cardinal
    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Doohickie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. As a transportation planner, I have very little to offer in terms of experiences,
    You got that light rail system done yet?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I've had a few of these. Not so much with ED. I've got the guy who has this great dream of a railroad museum/playground/job center/whatever. With him I just tell him it's not going to happen, but he keeps insisting. I've told him to get the railroad to approve giving him some abandoned rail line like he wants and then get the railroad to repair and reinstate the spur. Once you get that done come talk to me.

    For planning I always fought with people in my own city. We were a bedroom community. Everyone always wanted regulations for super cool TOD walkable stuff. I kept arguing that we didn't have a transit line (but we'll get one), we didn't have density (if we get a transit line we'll get density). The only thing I could do is keep telling them we are a family oriented city. Strive to be the best at that and you'll succeed. Of course we also had an ED dept. that claimed we would be the next biotech center or whatever trend came along. I used to tell them the same thing. Market our families. We have good schools, good recreation, great neighborhoods. With that we can land some regular jobs. People are happy with a small factory just to see work happening. It doesn't have to be a bio space industrial complex with a new university medical center.

    For you my best advice is to think the way I do for things like tourism and business (you probably already do). What can you offer that is new and different and how will you market it? For tourism you're asking people to spend time and money in a car to drive out and see what? I can see those things much closer to where I live, why should I see yours? I've always liked the practice of listing out the best things of a community and not just from one person's opinion, it has to be a public consensus of some type. Then capitalize on that and be the best at that you can be. If your community is just a giant truck stop between two major metro areas, just be the best damn truck stop ever. They might come for the gas, but they stay for some cool secondary thing they discovered.

    Can you set up a secondary marketing strategy so most of the efforts go to the real goal and a little side effort can be made for touring a greenhouse? Just a token effort to make the idiots happy.

    Good luck, you know the idiot isn't going to listen anyway.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Doohickie View post
    You got that light rail system done yet?
    There is a 3 mile segment under construction now that will tie Amtrak to Downtown and several colleges/art/medical centers. It will also link with the people mover and bus terminal.

    Baby steps, but for a broke city that is all we can hope for.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I
    My approach has usually been to show them the data, describe the competition, and reiterate the basic rules of economic development, marketing, tourism, etc. ...So how do I get through to these people, or how should I respond if they keep pushing?
    Facts are not always compelling nor do they always win the argument.

    If you can't figger out what makes him tick and appeal to his self-identity, not much chance of success.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    with about 20 years in a different-but-consultative business, I came to some conclusions.

    Clients come to you with three things: what the need, what they want, and what the ask for. Those three things never match. Your job is to listen to what they ask for, figure out what they need, then persuade them that that is what they want.

    The second thing is that the minute somebody becomes a client, their brain turns to oatmeal.

    --don

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    If the client pays the bills and is not doing anything illegal or criminal, let him/her spend the money how they please. As a businessman looking down at 30,000 feet I guide the client through the process, however ridiculous it looks. That view is not always shared by my colleagues. I don't HAVE to have my view of what a project looks like. Now, if the client's demands consume so much time at the expense of other jobs, you have to determine if you want to continue that relationship and deal with the ramifications either way.

    I use a parallel argument with planning colleagues as to why developers can get away with building terrible sprawl, which I sometimes design. As long as the client honors the code and does not infringe upon the health, safety, and welfare (legal hint)...then the developer petitioner is free to propose whatever they want. If planners have problems with it, I pass the buck back onto them. Change your ordinance, don't blame the client. The consultant claims authorship not ownership. Work is work is work. At the end of the day I am personally more concerned with keeping my lights on than having to win every single argument every single time.

    Hope this helps-
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Doohickie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    There is a 3 mile segment under construction now that will tie Amtrak to Downtown and several colleges/art/medical centers. It will also link with the people mover and bus terminal.

    Baby steps, but for a broke city that is all we can hope for.
    I'm envious. Fort Worth had a streetcar deal ready to go, but the powers that be waited until two members of the council that were proponents of the deal were on trips out of the area to vote on it and guess what? Missed by one vote. We're doing a lot of cool things in Fort Worth, but rail isn't one of them.

    I used to live in the Detroit area, and I think it's great that they're getting a start in rail. So you're connecting the Amtrak to WSU and the Medical District? Cool beanz.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Doohickie View post
    I'm envious. Fort Worth had a streetcar deal ready to go, but the powers that be waited until two members of the council that were proponents of the deal were on trips out of the area to vote on it and guess what? Missed by one vote. We're doing a lot of cool things in Fort Worth, but rail isn't one of them.

    I used to live in the Detroit area, and I think it's great that they're getting a start in rail. So you're connecting the Amtrak to WSU and the Medical District? Cool beanz.
    Actually it goes from N of Grand Blvd to N of Jefferson Ave. The next step is to do the Detroit to Ann Arbor commuter train with stops including Greenfield Village and the Airport.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Doohickie's avatar
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    I used to live right by Greenfield Village.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    In my work I invariably encounter the client who has a perception or idea that just isn't feasible, but keeps pushing it. The city that thought it could land major distribution centers but was greatly eclipsed by much better located competition ten miles away. The county that thinks it will be the next biotech hotspot because it is an industry targeted by the state and they have a university (tier four, negligible science programs, basically a business and teaching college). And now the client that thinks everything is a tourism asset. Sorry, but I don't see people driving three hours to visit a greenhouse that is no better than a half dozen located within twenty minutes of their home.

    So how do you get a client to face reality? My approach has usually been to show them the data, describe the competition, and reiterate the basic rules of economic development, marketing, tourism, etc. But this does not always work, and I end up moving from discussions about a greenhouse to how there are people interested in cemeteries, the town has cemeteries, and shouldn't they be part of the tourism marketing? Sure, I could include these pipedreams in the strategy, but then, as a consultant I am being hired for my expertise, which tells me that these are a waste of time, effort, and money. My report shuld guide the client to the best possible investments, not to a whim or a "something for everyone" approach that is destined to failure because it produces nothing for anyone.

    Have you faced a similar challenge, or ever realized that you are the one pushing for something impractical? (Actually, as planners I think many of us have been there, advocating for something we would really like to see as planners, but not realizing until later that it was impractical in the current situation.) So how do I get through to these people, or how should I respond if they keep pushing?
    So really - I have the opposite problem. or rather - I am sitting on the other side of the table. I have a train station and a gutted downtown (meaning green space). I need the walkable TOD (along with the City Seat back in downtown) in order to make it viable again. I am no planner however. I am a Citizen working on a board, and was put on that Board because this is something I'm passionate about. I am in a major metropolitan area, sitting between downtown and the busiest airport in the world. My consultants don't believe there is any hope for my side of town. Their preference is to put a project no one (not my community, not my board, not my council, not my ED Department, not my larger planning organization) wants in and call it a day.

    I don't see it as particularly outlandish, and I realize it needs to be scaled to what can be accommodated - but in my mind, there is a creative way to compromise - I don't have champagne tastes - but I know there are some real needs for the community - despite the demographic data saying we should suck it up and drive 6-10 miles to get daily needs met. I need someone that buys into the vision and wants to make it happen - temper it with reality, sure, or offer something comparable that might be a better fit - but I honestly feel like I'm a broken down prostitute being spoken to by her pimp - "Nobody's gonna love you like me. How are you going to do better? You'll take what I give you and like it."

    What would your advice to be me?

    (PS - I have looked at the data - the research analysis, the Comp Plans, the demographic data - we're almost there, and our location is good - our reputation is bad however)

  14. #14
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    This is part of why we love and hate planning. It's a problem that has no easy solution and it's not just one problem. Developers will always go after the low hanging fruit in your town. Your vision just ins't theirs. You're trying to build a city, they just need to be profitable. The two rarely meet. Try to find out what developers want to make a project happen. I'm sure it will involve the city spending money on infrastructure or something, but that's what it takes sometimes. To me the reputation problem is a bigger issue. It sounds like your city is a train stop between downtown and the airport. I'm sure your citizens enjoy the ability to hop a train to either place, but no one is coming into your town. Why should they? What does your train station offer people along the rail line to lure them in? Then again this is why planning is fun. You can't lure people without good development or recreation and you can get that without people. My advice would be to get the city focused on the problem first and then making a plan of attack. This is where consultants help. They have the time and expertise to create a plan that includes economic development, zoning, and capital improvements. They also talk to other developers to create some positive buzz about your plan.

    Good luck, there's no easy answer and it's going to take time to make changes happen.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    This is part of why we love and hate planning. It's a problem that has no easy solution and it's not just one problem. Developers will always go after the low hanging fruit in your town. Your vision just ins't theirs. You're trying to build a city, they just need to be profitable. The two rarely meet. Try to find out what developers want to make a project happen. I'm sure it will involve the city spending money on infrastructure or something, but that's what it takes sometimes. To me the reputation problem is a bigger issue. It sounds like your city is a train stop between downtown and the airport. I'm sure your citizens enjoy the ability to hop a train to either place, but no one is coming into your town. Why should they? What does your train station offer people along the rail line to lure them in? Then again this is why planning is fun. You can't lure people without good development or recreation and you can get that without people. My advice would be to get the city focused on the problem first and then making a plan of attack. This is where consultants help. They have the time and expertise to create a plan that includes economic development, zoning, and capital improvements. They also talk to other developers to create some positive buzz about your plan.

    Good luck, there's no easy answer and it's going to take time to make changes happen.
    Thanks for the advice! I think my problem lies with the consultants I have. They seem less interested in creating a workable plan (for both sides), then they are with closing the deal for the developer they have in mind, despite protestations. And we're the ones paying them. lol And you are right - right now, other than the folks who get off here after their commute - there is nothing to offer downtown. Which is why I would like to see any development geared to offering that, as opposed to 100% rental residential, which, if it's not your destination, you are going to just keep driving or riding past.

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