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South Bend Roadmap title page

A Better Way to Plan a Daring City's Future


A year ago, Funkhouser & Associates teamed up with the Drucker Institute’s Lawrence Greenspun to test a new idea in South Bend, Indiana. Our premise was that if we combined the management and visioning expertise that Lawrence brings to all of his public-sector engagements with our expertise in municipal finance, federal funding and policy development, we could design an entirely new way for local governments to think about strategic planning.

When I was mayor of Kansas City, I often said that we as policymakers can’t take care of our residents unless we take care of the money. But so often fiscal policy is left out of the strategic (or comprehensive) planning process. This is a mistake. Our ambitious and worthy goals mean little to the residents we serve if we don’t also map out how to make them a reality. What’s more, the comprehensive planning process in government tends to be siloed — even though the desired impact of those plans cuts across multiple policy areas. We know, for example, that housing, public safety, transportation, and education are all interlinked. So why not integrate the planning process and goal-setting for those departments?

Our aim in South Bend was to create a new approach to comprehensive planning that would address these two key concerns — finances and integration across policy areas — and result in a more effective and accountable living document. We did this with critical support from city council leadership, the administration and innumerable residents and community stakeholders.

“South Bend’s comprehensive plan process is an opportunity for all of us to take stock of where — and who — we are as a community and where we’d like to go,” said Council President Sharon McBride. “F&A’s unique approach to our roadmap engagement went beyond the typical public engagement sessions to give us a vision that makes the right connections between city departments, policy, and the shared vision of our community.”

A new type of comprehensive plan
With input from city representatives and an advisory committee of local business, education and other leaders, we designed and implemented an iterative and integrated engagement program to generate awareness and dialogue about the comprehensive planning process and cultivate an ongoing relationship among the city, community stakeholders and the general public.

Through more than 100 engagements that included thematic workshops, neighborhood meetings and public events, our aim was to establish a resident-informed, collective vision for the South Bend 2045 Plan and identify collaborative strategies and mechanisms to drive the comprehensive plan’s adoption and implementation.

We approached our visioning sessions in South Bend with three core questions:

  1. What do you want to do?
  2. How can you do it effectively?
  3. And can you pay for it sustainably?

These sessions with city employees, residents, businesses, nonprofits and academia generated cross-sector insights and ideas that linked transportation with local workforce needs, housing
with finance, public education with downtown development, and public safety with everything.

We gained insights on residents’ appetite for new forms of taxation, support for financing
programs such as a land bank, and perceptions on city investment priorities. Importantly, we got people thinking about the fact that progress isn’t free. We also conducted individual interviews with most of the city’s department heads to glean initial insights and suggestions based on departmental perspectives and priorities.

Even before we wrote the roadmap, we saw how this more thematic method was creating new connections and positive relationships. For example, Steve Smith, a prominent local developer who participated in the housing workshop, said he learned he needed to “narrow the geography” of his thinking and that the best benefit for the community would come from “density and infill within the city limits” rather than “building another subdivision in a cornfield.”

Also as a result of the relationships formed during that workshop, Smith was invited to speak at the city’s housing symposium that fall. That experience, he said, completely transformed his thinking about the type of housing South Bend needed. “The quality of insights generated at these events couldn’t be replicated,” he said, “and helped me access data and patterns I never would have otherwise.”

Connective tissue for a more prosperous city
In describing South Bend today, one of our workshop participants put it best: “Great ingredients without a good recipe.” This theme — that the city possesses the raw materials for a more prosperous, thriving community but requires far greater cohesion and clarity to bring these assets together effectively — emerged ubiquitously during the SB 2045 Plan engagement process.

Our roadmap (or conceptual framework) for the city’s comprehensive plan was therefore based on this core idea of building connective tissue: better, broader, and stronger relationships among city departments and agencies as well as with — and within — the community. Rather than organizing the plan around policy topics, we showed how the city could frame the comprehensive plan around the strategic choices and priorities identified through the engagement process, including ideas for rough benchmarks and desired outcomes.

“Any major city policy, whether it’s in housing, health, open space or transportation, cuts across multiple departments and requires buy-in from a range of community stakeholders,” Council Vice President Sheila Niezgodski said of the process. “The roadmap F&A designed for South Bend 2045 makes those cross-cutting connections to show how the city’s assets — its people, location and resources — can be leveraged for a more prosperous, thriving community.”

The city of South Bend demonstrated vision and courage to embark on this experiment with us. City leaders wanted to move beyond just gathering resident input for the plan to ultimately activating the community in realizing it. We believe the dialogue and relationships mobilized during the engagement process of the past year speak to the effectiveness of this model.

As the city begins its next phase for the SB 2045 Plan, we look forward to seeing it come to life and bringing this new approach to other daring cities.

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