City’s Vision and Action Plan needs community support

Saturday, January 26, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:35 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

A vision can be a guiding light, providing a sense of purpose and illuminating achievable goals. Or it can be a kind of hallucination, a temporary escape from reality.

We’re waiting to see which sort of vision for our community has been produced by the yearlong attempt to, as it is described, “Imagine Columbia’s Future.” At the moment, it seems to me that it could go either way.

I joined the handful of good citizens and duty-bound reporters in the City Council chamber a week ago Friday to witness the ceremonial handoff of the "Vision and Action Plan Final Report" from the co-chairs of the imagining to the Sponsors Council, which is made up of the elected heads of city and county government and the chief executives of our town’s educational institutions.

It was an uplifting few minutes, as M. Dianne Drainer and Jeffrey Williams presented what they described as the work product of hundreds of citizens and the outline of the future community those citizens hope to see created. The Vision and Action Plan is not, Prof. Williams said, an “exact blueprint.” Instead, it is intended as a set of principles, with some general suggestions for putting those principles into practice.

(Required statement of personal involvement: Like many of you, I participated months ago in the first step, which as I recall was the Big Ideas Forum. My big idea, which may look familiar to regular readers, was that we’d better get a handle on shaping and paying for growth. Then I dropped out.)

The development goal that appears in the Vision and Action Plan is: “We envision a community with a well planned, proactive growth strategy that addresses the manner in which infrastructure (defined here) is developed and maintained, that offers a fair and balanced approach regarding how payment for infrastructure is shared, that offers flexibility to accommodate change, and that provides coordination among all potential stakeholders.”

The proposal to “jump-start implementation” is this: “City Council to appoint a task force.”

There are 13 main goals, dozens of sub-goals and lots of jump-starts. With plenty of history to support him, Prof. Williams noted the concern that this vision will “gather dust.”

The sponsors, each with a gracious little speech, accepted the document and voted unanimously to recommend its adoption by the City Council.

Jerry Wade, my council representative, was in the audience. Jerry, in his professorial life, has helped hundreds of communities go through this process. He said to me, “This was the easy part.”

Hoping to tap his expertise, I asked how we citizens can prevent this from becoming just another dust catcher. “Nagging,” he said. “The secret of success is the process.”

The “action” part of the Vision and Action Plan calls on the council to rely mainly on existing staff and advisory commissions. There’s also a requirement for regular reports on progress.

You can read the whole document on the city Web site, It’s not an easy read, but who said citizenship was supposed to be easy?

Read it for yourself. Then, if this vision matches yours, prepare to nag and keep on nagging. Otherwise, it’s just a dust-catching dream.

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