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April 4, 2006 > Editorial: Tri-Cities 90210

Editorial: Tri-Cities 90210

Even those of us who were not avid fans of the series, Beverly Hills 90210 recognize the zip code. The address evokes images of a chic and glitzy locale, definitely upscale. While the faŤade of these areas may belie a seamy undercurrent often exposed by titillating novels, movies and television shows, there is something to be said for an expectation of quality. Ambiance and locale creates a heightened anticipation of service, price and patronage.

While not always true, packaging is recognized as a critical component of sales. Shoppers often purchase a well-designed package to discover a small and relatively unattractive product inside. Even if the product is well received and performs as advertised, attraction is created by how it is dressed and promoted. Marketing plans are determined by who will buy and for what price. Most successful promotions are the result of a careful study of how to appeal to the correct buyer for the product.

The same can be said for large products and even cities. People often buy, rent, work and shop in communities that meet or exceed their expectations. Why do some struggle so hard to live in an area that may be a few miles distant from another and equidistant from shopping, work or recreation? If cities appear clean, safe and vibrant, the attraction is strong for consumers. Even what some might shrug off as small differences magnify if the choice will directly affect their quality of life. For instance, how many people would choose to live and raise their family in an unkempt neighborhood littered with trash, graffiti and discarded grocery carts? My guess is very few, if any.

Cities and school districts are rapidly learning this lesson as competition for dollars - public and private - becomes fierce. Attractive neighborhoods are the harbingers of success while those wallowing in decay yield more misery. Planners and contractors know this too. The difficulty of insisting on and achieving the best developments is often found when those chasing the fast buck disguise their intent and overwhelm planners with weak skills or no vision of the future.

Cities typically use the efforts of staff, review boards and planning commissions to support their vision and give contractors a clear understanding of community expectations. The results should confirm the goals and the process. If the city council and developers are surprised by the results, an attitude adjustment is in order including a close inspection of how people are seated on these review bodies. City councilmembers who are elected to insist on a top quality environment should expect the same attitude from their commissions and staff.

Political appointees with little or no experience in planning concepts may feel a position on a planning or review board is either a reward for prior service or patronage. However, the reality is that their decisions are a vital link to a city's vision and should not be left to those simply warming a seat, waiting for another political move. Unfortunately, in some cities, appointment to a seat on the planning commission is primarily political, considered a vital step to becoming a councilmember. This position can provide a familiarity with city politics, agendas and visibility, but can also lead to uninformed and poor decisions derailing the efforts of a city vision. Unfortunately, political patronage does not lead to the best qualified members. Planning commission meetings can often give clues to how members deal with developments and contractor proposals. Meetings are open to the public and agendas and minutes are available as well. Check with your city or visit their website to see what this group is doing to safeguard your future.

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