Pine Bluff has many challenges, but the greatest of these is an unwillingness on the part of multiple administrations to use something other than gut feelings and hope to guide our city's future. Fortunately, many other American cities -- when faced with similar challenges -- have figured out how to do this.
In successful cities, tradition and good intentions are replaced by logic grounded in social science, economics and statistical analysis. Positive change is set in motion by real data and a perspective that regards Pine Bluff as a system of interrelated parts.
Today, our local government lacks a cohesive vision. We have allowed situations to develop that exclude important resources, not just financial resources, but the human capital found in stable neighborhoods, effective community organizations and shared goals. For a successful city, government must be viewed as the foundation upon which everything else is based.
Next, we need to look at our INFRASTRUCTURE. Decades of surrendering things we depend on to private and exclusionary purposes have created a splintering urbanism. Because we have abdicated the role of government to a small group of people who control certain resources, our city stays in a state of decline. To fix this, City Hall must be staffed by people willing to identify these inequalities and flaws in planning. We need leadership that will take back control of government and ensure the standards we set for ourselves are met.
We have several projects in our city that have been started, yet abandoned, but all this circles back to disconnectedness. The traditionally obeyed gatekeepers have set up a system designed to keep others isolated and disenfranchised. We must recognize the resources we already have. This idea, SOCIAL CAPITAL, refers to "the connections amongst individuals' social networks and the benefit and trustworthiness that arise from them". Civic engagement strengthens democracy. These are extremely powerful and capable forces when focused.
When we learn how to utilize our social capital, we begin to improve our QUALITY OF LIFE. We develop Cosmopolitan Canopies, which are public spaces that offer relief from the stressors of everyday life and an opportunity for diverse peoples to come together. Citizens have a chance to mix, observe and become better acquainted with people they otherwise seldom encounter, granting people the opportunity to stretch themselves mentally, emotionally and socially. The result is a growing social cohesion, shared interests and unified goals that allow diverse populations to get along and succeed.
In "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy's dog, Toto, pulls back a curtain revealing that there was a simple little man pulling the strings of the machine that controlled Oz. We as a community need to pull back our curtain. We need to use our hearts, our brains and our courage to take control of our city back from people and institutions who have historically kept us from collaborating and utilizing our social capital. It starts with a GOVERNMENT guided by evidence, reason and shared goals.
This narrative describes a framework model I created on participatory governance. Visual not included.
Joni Alexander Robinson is a bank executive and former Pine Bluff council member who has announced her intention to run for mayor.