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Columbus' Time to Advance

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Mayor Kristen Brown plans to unveil a new community strategic plan at Tuesday’s State of the City address with a focus on using public-private partnerships to address the city’s most critical issues.

The plan, called Advance Columbus, was developed by a steering committee of leaders of public, private and not-for-profit organizations and focuses on 10 community goals. Nine of the goals already have been assigned to a group of public-private councils or coalitions to tackle. Each group is being organized with the 16-year-old Community Education Commission as a model.

“We have all these great strengths, but we have problems, too — the widening skills gap, chronic poverty, unhealthy behaviors, lifestyles, crime driven by substance abuse,” Brown said. “We want to continually advance our quality of life for ourselves and future generations.”

The goals:

  • A highly skilled workforce.
  • Best business climate.
  • Cultural and creative capital.
  • Welcoming community.
  • Safest community.
  • Healthy community.
  • Environmental sustainability.
  • Lifelong learning for all.
  • Quality housing opportunities for all.
  • Financial stability for all.

“These are broad, shared goals,” Brown said, stressing that they were set by her steering committee.

Some of the coalitions were existing groups, and others are newly formed, such as the Council on Affordable Housing and a financial stability council.

“Where a coalition doesn’t already exist addressing these goals, we have created them,” she said.

Brown sees the city as being a partner in the various efforts with the coalitions taking the lead, including developing incremental goals, timelines and ways to measure success for each of the community goals. By the end of the year, she expects the coalitions will have developed those benchmarks.

She said recent improvements made around the Ninth Street Park area, for example, show the success of agencies and organizations working together. The city, county, churches, nonprofit organizations, Cummins Inc. and community volunteers had a stake in either cleaning up the neighborhood, improving the park and its playground or improving public safety.

Consensus building

Tracy Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, is a member of the steering committee. She said the group began work shortly after Brown took office and the 10 goals were developed through a process of building consensus and generating support among community groups. She said the plan benefited from that broad representation.

“I think it is a good plan,” Souza said. “I think it has a good potential to make some positive things happen in the community.”

But the plan is still flexible enough to adapt as time goes on, Souza said.

“We hope this is going to be a living document,” she said. “This is not a cast-in-concrete plan. These are strategies we can pursue, but there is plenty of room for discussion and new ideas.”

The main job of Jack Hess, executive director of the Community Education Coalition’s Institute for Coalition Building, is finding ways to export the success of the coalition to other communities. He said he has visited many cities in that work and has seen few that have a comprehensive, strategic plan such as the one Brown will unveil Tuesday.

“This isn’t a government or municipal strategic plan, this is a community strategic plan,” Hess said. “I am unaware of any community that truly has a community plan. You will find city plans, you will find municipal plans at a strategic-plan level. But there are not a lot of communities that have the state of readiness because of what we have done with the public-private partnerships over the last 60 years.”

The goals and strategies the coalitions develop will be long-standing.

“These are built to last,” Hess said. “These are addressing systemic, complex issues over a very long period of time, not one-off initiatives.”

Build on shared goals

Mark Stewart, president of United Way of Bartholomew County, said his agency is preparing to launch a financial stability council to attack the Advance Columbus financial-stability goal.

He said the key to the coalitions will be to integrate existing programs and organizations toward shared goals and measures of success.

“There are individual programs that are existing within the community that are trying to achieve those goals, but they are fairly limited in nature,” Stewart said. “Some of them were around for a while and have maybe lost some of their robustness. Some are targeted to very specific demographics.”

Where individual

programs, with their own funding limits, cannot tackle the larger programs, the coalitions are built to do so, Brown said.

“We have got all of these great private and public organizations dedicated to serving our community,” Brown said.

“But yet, we are all resource-constrained and strapped, and it is getting worse. Particularly in our community, our tax revenues are flattened, federal funding for a lot of our programs locally has been cut or is being cut. Our private philanthropy in our community has declined significantly.”

Brown said the coalitions will align groups with similar goals to address the larger problems.

“For each of our organizations, it is very difficult to have meaningful impact; but if we come together collectively to solve our problems, to move the needle, capitalize on opportunities, that is very promising,” she said.

Brown said city government already is aligning its priorities with the Advance Columbus plan and cited the hiring of Carl Malysz, the new community development director, as an example.

Malysz has been tasked with leading the housing coalition, which is a different focus than the community development position has had previously.

“What is going to come out of this is really going to shape city government’s priorities,” Brown said.

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