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Urban Affairs Policy Issues, Research Paper Example

Pages: 11

Words: 3137

Research Paper

Abstract

Urban renewal and development is point of interest among politicians, economists, environmentalists and many other members of the community.  The processes and project management regarding urban development takes place must follow key project management principles to ensure the appropriate outcome results from the development.  The key issue at hand in urban development and management of such a project is ensuring the limited resources available to grow the community and foster an environment for social and economic prosperity are utilized in the most effective and efficient manner while also focusing on providing the greatest return on investment.  The urban development team members must understand the constraints on the project as it relates to schedule, scope and cost.  These constraints must be managed and executed in a way to ensure successful project completion.  This can be accomplished with a structured framework and rigorous adherence to those standards based on the established best practices in the project management community.

Urban Renewal and Redevelopment

Urban renewal projects are designed to take an area that is not fulfilling its economic, cultural or aesthetic potential and revitalize that area so that its potential can be reached.  There are two basic tenants or philosophies behind urban renewal projects.  The first is the focus on eliminating a problem that is plaguing the citizens and residents in a certain area.  The problems that could be mitigated by and urban renewal project implementation could range from overcrowding, too little resource availability for the population or overutilization of the environmental aspects of the community for short term gains. For example, in the 19th century, the industrial revolution brought on a new problem relating directly to overcrowding, resource use and elimination and the inability to manage urban upkeep with the demands of the population.  Too many people, with limited infrastructure and sub-par logistics for food, water and waste removal occurred in large metropolitan areas such as London, Paris and New York (Cord 1974). City planning was utilized aspects of architecture and art to develop and plan their cities but did not take into account the influx of families into the areas so temporary measures were implemented for long term solutions.

The second purpose for urban land renewal is based on efficiency and aesthetics.  As each city grows the needs for land, resources, energy and other opportunities for economic, cultural and societal growth are needed.  Planning for the use of the limited resources to build or enhance the efficiency of an urban area relies on the same principles outlined in the project management best practices.  Throughout history, humans have the tendency to upgrade and renovate their home dwellings and this type of urban renewal is like a home renovation expanded exponentially across the board.  Cities are built in a point in time and are not fully adjustable to the ever changing environment in which they house.  That being said, urban renewal projects are picking up where the city planners left off which could have been decades previously.  The city planners and developers had only estimates and projections on the needs of their cities when established and with the increase of technological advancements, differing needs from the inhabitants and aging infrastructure, urban renewal projects are facing multiple areas of risk which will require a certain level of mitigation and management.  New York City’s renovation was led by a city planner named Robert Moses.  He took on the large objective of re-planning the bridges, roadways and public parks to improve the overall aesthetic value of the area as well as increase the ability to move and spread out through New York while still retaining the ability to quickly return.  This objective was to not only increase the aesthetics of the city but also increase the ability for movement within the city as well as outside of the city.  This project had to look outside of building a completely new core of the city and provided a solution to the root cause of the problem.  The people of New York City needed a less restrictive way to move to and from the city to work and to travel to their homes.  Instead of building upwards through larger buildings Moses provided the infrastructure to encourage future development on the outskirts of the city where other land and resources were plentiful.

Background on Core Issues

Land is a limited resource and the redevelopment of underutilized or misappropriated land helps extend the intrinsic benefits of the land.  There are many concerns about urban renewal projects.  Some of these concerns are why certain projects come to fruition or if the projects are used in the best areas at the best time.  This is specifically true when revitalization of certain areas of the town, city or other metropolitan areas receive focus because there is an ulterior motive or other objective that is not in alignment with the best interests of the community.  Understanding the underlying goals and objectives of the sponsors of a project could have a negative impact on the success of an urban renewal project as well as everlasting impact on the community involved.  While the overall strategic vision of a renewal project shows a quantitative and qualitative benefit there are also other areas of concern that will need to be addressed through a risk mitigation plan following the best management framework.  The overall impact of the project must be understood when developing the plan for implementation.  There will be short term and long term benefits but there will also be short and long term negative implications for the renewal projects.  A full evaluation of the feasibility of success, interdependencies of the people and property falling within the scope of the project and the long term impacts the project will have must be taken into consideration.

The issues around urban renewal are multi-faceted.  The project can be successful in terms of short term goals and objectives being met and in the same instance the project can have long term negative ramifications that negate any positive aspects that were realized in the early stages of the project.  Urban renewal projects lean toward the side of long term project plans spanning multiple years and sometimes multiple decades depending on the scope and iterative nature of the project.  The investment for change is shouldered largely by the community undertaking the change as well as those key stakeholders who have the responsibility of being accountable for the process as well as the outcome.  The core purpose or motivation behind driving an urban revitalization project often creates the groundwork for the project regarding the established drive to complete the project and ultimately how successful the project is in terms of meeting the goals and objectives.  This is also directly corollary to how the actual impact to the revitalized area is received.  The core structure of the urban renewal project must be based in realizable objectives and achievable goals (Fasenfest 1984).  If the scope of the project is over-reaching and the strategic viewpoint is foggy the project may at best end up off course.

An example of a large scale urban development plan that had high expectations but poor implementation and execution can be described in the urban renewal project in Kansas.  The intention was to restructure the entire community while driving business toward the epicenter of the city through the new construction of venues and attractions.  The thought was that new areas for entertainment, shopping, business and other activities would bring in more people to visit and grow the economy.  This was the renewal project around Wichita, Kansas in the 1980’s.  The community of Wichita, Kansas was looking to become a tourist stop along the way of travelers from the East to the West and even more than just a stop to fill up and move along the trail but to become a tourist destination and an end point for a vacationing family.  In order for the city to raise its level of attractiveness, a developer named Jack DeBoer proposed a plan to build the attractions and infrastructure that was utilized in other parts of the country to facilitate the transformation of the mid-sized Kansas town into revenue generating tourist stop.  The “DeBoer” plan established a multi-dimensional restructuring project that would provide the tools necessary for the town to build their worth (Weeks 2007).

The plan first focused on converting the downtown area into an entertainment district with infrastructure for hotels and pedestrian movement.  The idea was to bring the people to the attractions and keep them within walking distance to promote business in the local downtown shops.  While the plan did include building new buildings using appropriated land from the pubic it also focused on revamping and renovating the existing buildings to create a more aesthetic and pleasing experience to the visitors.  In conjunction to the new buildings and the revitalized shops, there were plans for a new sports arena, children’s museum and an ice arena.  At the epicenter of the plan and of the city was a proposed build for a statue that would become as well known as the Space Needle in Seattle.  The centerpiece was to be a five hundred foot statue called “Keeper of the Plains”.  The project was going to be implemented in iterative stages and with each stage there would be progression checks to ensure funding was spent according to the budget execution plan, the goals and requirements were on schedule, and the trajectory of the project was still on course for the agreed upon end-state agreed by all the stakeholders.

The overall project was not successful in the eyes of the city due to the end state of being a tourist destination not being met.  The issue with this unsuccessful effort was attributed to requirements that were not measurable and an end state that could not be quantified.  To further complicate the issues on whether or not the revitalization was a benefit to the community there would have to be measurable performance metrics for each parameter of the plan.  The first area that caused distress was the statue in the center of the city.  The statue at the center of the city became more of a beacon of failure than the world renowned artwork that it was proposed to be.  The “Keeper of the Plains’ raised a fury when the family in which the statue was based did not want it to depict their ancestry in such a subpar fashion.  The city’s crown jewel did not achieve its goal of raising five hundred feet in the air but the pedestal was raised so that the community and tourist could have a better view of the artwork.  Although this seems like a minor inconvenience it is just a view into the lack of planning and accountability within all stages of the urban renewal project.  The lack of communication and planning led to the direct failure of one of the key milestones on the project plan.

While the renovations were being performed on the downtown businesses there was heavy construction and obstruction to the preexisting shopping routes and business access points.  While this was an obvious risk to the local economy there was not a plan to mitigate the losses incurred by the local businesses due to the decrease in businesses opportunities.  At first this was just a nuisance but as the project progress the construction never fully completed any given section so that the rerouting of customers could be established.  Once construction started on a street or thoroughfare it only completed when the entire project was complete.  This was an execution and planning failure that did not take into consideration that a certain level of business activity and access must be available at all times.  While some businesses tried to weather through the construction and remodeling of the downtown infrastructure, landscape and buildings, other businesses had to leave the area to keep their heads above water and remain viable to their respective shareholders and business owners (Weeks 2007).  The plan was to increase the amount of business in the center of town but due to poor planning and a lack of risk mitigation businesses were driven out due to the necessity of staying afloat in the trying economic times.  The plan went overschedule and over-budget while not fully communicating the full picture and timeframe to the downtown businesses regarding actual impact they would experience.  Full disclosure of the impact was never provided nor was a precursor or estimate on timing, availability or cost to the businesses or the city.  This could have been because it was an unknown at the time but risk planning and cost estimates could have provided a broad picture of what to expect.  After the first wave of businesses leaving downtown areas, there were some others that left due to the fact they could not stand to fight another day in the war of attrition with the renewal project.  While the businesses were still making it financially the lack of transparency regarding schedules and impact to the area resulted in a second exodus from the area.

The leadership focused on the core set of successful objectives and did not understand the negative ramifications that would occur on the journey.  Understanding how to achieve certain objectives as well as understanding the overall impact to the changes occurring are imperative in the urban renewal project management.  The focus on the potential growth and potential success of the project was promoted by the leadership through the urban renewal project’s campaign.  This growth opportunity was spun by the leaders of the urban renewal project as an opportunity for growth and a reintroduction of new vitality and life into the stagnant and sluggish Kansas economy.  New restaurants and clubs purchased and leased property in the downtown area and the area had a glimmer of hope for possible growth and future sustainment.  Then as the economic obligations of the businesses were not being met there was a huge turnover in leadership that lead to missed opportunities and disparate organizational structures.  When the organizational changes on the project team failed there was a request for support from the local government to subsidize the businesses and to address other issues such as parking and infrastructure that was supposedly remedied by the revitalization plan.  The urban renewal project started out to revitalize a community and ultimately ended in the creation of projects to remedy an even larger problem that did not exist prior to the DeBoer project.  The lack of successful management oversight and the exit of multiple key businesses reversed the initial cost benefit analysis and resulted in an area that was not seen as a market to invest in.  This distracted new investors which further pushed the area into a decline.

Accountability and Objectives

The lessons learned from the Wichita urban renewal program is that there needs to be definitive and measurable objectives throughout the project to ensure the right course of action is followed.  Also, the decisions made by the planning and zoning leadership need to be based in facts and not on the opinions or predictions of the venture contractors bidding on the job.  On paper, the plan for Wichita was solid until the risks were introduced into the equation.  The belief that building new facilities for businesses, roads to travel upon and hotels to stay in would drive people to utilize and enjoy the offerings of the city could be realized.  Poor planning and even fuzzier execution of the plans led to the negation of any positive results that could have come out of the renewal project.  The already established businesses were ousted from their downtown locations and new, unreliable and mismanaged businesses took their place.  Supplemental resources were needed from taxpayers to keep the businesses running due to the urban renewal project while prior to the project the businesses provided positive impacts and benefits to the community through revenue generation.

Proposed Steps Toward Success

Rome was not built in a day and successfully accomplishing a revitalization of the urban renewal process will take iterative steps to limit risk, strive for growth opportunities and achieve successful implementations.  The first step in the proposed solution is providing the framework and tools required to do the job and to do it correctly.  These tools include project management best practices, key performance indicator metrics, and other project tools to monitor and control the project’s scope, cost and schedule.  In order to be successful, the tools and knowledge coupled with a best practices framework will provide those opportunities for the project leaders and key stakeholders to experience successful urban development project implementations.  With all projects there needs to be an established guide to lead the way.  Urban renewal projects are large undertakings with exponential risks and potentially even greater rewards.  With that said, each area needs to be addressed prior to undertaking a large scale project includes:

  • Project Scope
  • Risk Mitigation Plan
  • Transition Plan
  • Benefits/Schedule/Cost Analysis
  • Project Acceptance Criteria
  • Strategic intent
  • Resource Needs regarding effort, capital and operating funding
  • Commitment needed from the planners, community and leadership

Urban renewal projects require the artful and scientific project management skills to fully manage all aspects of the project.  With multiple moving parts and an ever evolving work environment, strong leadership and support increase the opportunity for success.  Lack of guidance, unclear and non-measureable or non-achievable goals or lofty and illogical expectations will lead to a project that not only does not increase the value of the intended area but will also create a future burden on the community as a whole.  When the project was initiated the end state was not clearly defined.  The goals and objectives needed to be clearly stated in a concise and measurable manner.  Wichita, Kansas could have averted some of the calamities endured by setting expectations with the local businesses, placing accountability and ownership onto the proper entities as well as controlling the spending of the tax payers’ funds to ensure the greatest return on investment was achieved.  Urban renewal programs have yet to be perfected but with proper project management efforts, stakeholders’ accountability properly assigned, and correlated goals and objectives with measureable and attainable metrics there is the potential for successful programs to turn decaying and underutilized urban environments into productive and rich environments.  Implementing a frame work to manage and create accountability among the key stakeholders, the project team and the community will establish the foundation required to successfully implement urban renewal projects and meet the intended goals and objectives of the project while not sacrificing the current quality of life in the development area.

References

Cord, S., (1974). Urban renewal: boon or boondoggle? The American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 33, 184-186.

Fasenfest, D., (1984). A reassessment of urban renewal: policy failure or market success? Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 323.

Weeks, B., (2007). Urban renewal: a flawed idea that failed 50 years ago. Retrieved from http://wichitaliberty.org/free-markets/urban-renewal-a-flawed-idea-that-failed-50-years-ago/.

Project Management Institute, P. M. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge. (4th ed.). Newtown Square: Project Management Inst.

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