Make the City of Your Dreams or Yo, The City is Mine

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(Lyric by Drake)

All things are possible in cities, and in their totality, they telegraph to the world the aspirations of those who live there. Our city speaks volumes about who we are, our culture, and our collective desires and dreams.

You may think otherwise, but it is inescapable — we are all responsible for the city we have. We are responsible because the set of laws that allowed for its incorporation provided privileges and responsibilities that, above all, require us to participate in the making of our city. A dynamic city or an uninspired one is a result of how well we understand our role in city making and how we participate.

We are empowered by the right to make the city we want and need to live and work, to be prosperous and sustainable for generations. The city is an enterprise by design for the development of its economy. Also by design, the quality of life of our city is dependent on “us.” It is a virtuous cycle that requires our participation in making the city and its opportunities.

The City of Laredo Comprehensive Plan process for defining the city of our dreams, while a mammoth undertaking, has proven that the citizens generally agree in what ought to be the goals. We are united by a dynamic vision for Laredo, but many now need to participate in its realization. Disbelief, anxiety, and frustrations can thwart the effort only because we don’t know, have forgotten, or misunderstand the process of making a city goal a reality. 

Have you ever made bread?

Imagine a city is like a bakery filled with bakers, but instead call them city makers, endeavoring to work on many things, and imagine making a city is very much like making bread. The prerequisite, of course, you need to know what you want. You need a set of instructions and tools. You need ingredients.

Figure 1: The Virtuous Cycle of City Making requires us to participate in the making of our city.


The cookbook for cities

In the cookbook for cities — Local Government Code — a city maker finds the most important instruction. Everything in a city is planned, and the most important tools are those that help develop and catalyze growth. You must know what you want and need before you make; plan informs action. In a city, before anything officially can be done, it is written into a motion, an ordinance, or a policy, and each is voted on by City Council. In those actions reside the image, the values, and the future of the city — what is going to be built and where, the width of a city street and a sidewalk, whether a tree is planted in a parking lot, if a grocery store can be on your block, if an urban farm can be on public lands or a community garden can be in a neighborhood, what type of housing there is, if there is art in public places. All is possible in a city especially when a citizen knows that a city’s main function is to plan and incentivize for all aspects of city life. Once you know what you want to make, plan informs action. Help craft a motion, ordinance, or a policy.

Like yeast, advocates gives the city rise. They are people of like-minded vision who work together. City makers are advocates plus. They are citizens who endeavor to make the city in which they would like to live. They are relentless in their pursuit to adopt and implement. When it comes to motivation, the dissatisfaction of a complainer, the partisan drive of an agitator, or the fear of a reactionary are not the driving forces of city makers. City makers are citizen groups who want to see their city thrive with social and economic diversity. They want their city to be an authentic expression of its culture and arts. They want inspired and informed, fair and equitable, transparent decisions, and they want data for guidance with innovation as a goal.

Plan informs action. For inspiration look to Bike Laredo working on bike ordinances and policies related to health and transportation, Canseco House Citizen Committee working on the urban agriculture ordinance and food sustainability, and Project Laredaissance millennial group working to make a downtown entertainment corridor through the It Street Incentives ordinance and other initiatives like a city open data policy to help catalyze an entrepreneurial economy.

What good is a bakery if it not for the bread and enjoying the bread made?

There is always a product in city making and the purpose of making is to enjoy or benefit from it. The products of city making generate a strong, and sustainable economy; for example, diverse types of jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities, diverse entertainment and recreational choices, healthcare facilities and organizations, programs for environmental sustainable practices and food security, diverse housing options accessible to all income levels, diverse good quality educational opportunities, unique cultural amenities, walkable neighborhoods. Together they form a synergy in a city called the quality of life. It is the level of enjoyment in relation to everything from health, education, security, entrepreneurship, employment, finances, diversity, and the environment.

Quality of life is inextricably tied to the development of the economy.

It is enterprise fueled by good paying jobs. It is tethered to a don’t put all your eggs in one basket economic strategy to make it possible for many people with diverse talents to find scalable work opportunities. It relies on the citizen brain bank that acts with a sense of urgency and inclusiveness to promote investment in, trade, talent, culture, infrastructure, social services, school curriculum, and governance.

Angelou Economics, the economic development consultant for the City of Laredo Economic Development Plan provides the overarching goal of plan recommendations: “Laredo should ensure that economic development gains are felt throughout the city. It will take broad-based support from all business sectors, from all community groups, and from all elected officials to meet the goals of the plan. The mindset of all participating in these efforts should be for the greater good of Laredo. That is the only way in which economic opportunity and growth will flourish in all recommended sectors.”

Figure 2: From the Executive Summary of the Economic Development Plan for City of Laredo. By recognizing our city’s strengths and assets, new target industries and niches emerge and showcase the potential for a better, more sustainable quality of life.


Enjoying the bread

The bread and the enjoying the bread you make are, too, a metaphor for a city that can sustain you and your family. Fundamentally, if the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right, then access to a happy life is the main purpose of a city. It is not easy to achieve, it is not a forgone conclusion, and how sad and instantly apparent it is when citizens have failed their cities. Opportunity in the sustainable, livable, and desirable city takes smart, directed planned effort by passionate public and private city makers in a manner which achieves measurable and dynamic results.

Participating in the development of the economy is about making the city of your dreams, it is about love reciprocated. As it is with people so it is with your city;. “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”. lyric by Paul McCartney

(Viviana Frank AIA, LEED-AP, CNU-A, NCARB, a Principal of Frank + Hickey Pena, a Joint Venture, together with Frank Rotnofsky AIA, NCARB, Mario Pena AIA, CNU-A, NCARB and Diana Pena CNU-A assembled and collaborated with a team of exceptional local engineering professionals, and nationally recognized planners and economists to prepare a comprehensive plan with and for the citizens of Laredo.)

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