SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES COLLOBORATIVE
The Sustainable Communities Collaborative was created during the Great Recession to promote transit-oriented development and connect financers with developers. In 2016, the loose-knit organization was about to make a transition to a new structure. Leger Strategies was hired to document the group's history, through interviews with key players. This was compiled into stories that the Collaborative is publishing on its Facebook page.
The Sustainable Communities Collaborative began with an audacious premise.
In a culture that emphasizes competition, it would ask people to set aside their self-interest and work toward a common goal. It would bring diverse interests into the room and ask them to share ideas, stretch beyond where they were comfortable and accept that getting less than they wanted was still a win.
The emphasis would be on GSD – getting stuff done, to use the polite translation – and not keeping score or paying much attention to who got the credit. This would be true collaboration.
Right. Like that’s going to happen.
Matt Seaman has lived in downtown Phoenix for two decades. For years he would pass the vacant lot at Roosevelt Street and First Avenue and shake his head.
First Avenue forked, with one branch sweeping over to Central Avenue and the other dead-ending at Roosevelt. The result: a perfectly good piece of land was split into a useless triangle and a too-tiny plot.
But Seaman, a developer, could see the possibilities. He just had to help others see it.
Six years later, Tommy Espinoza’s amazement has not faded.
The CEO of Phoenix-based Raza Development Fund recalls the press conference when the Sustainable Communities Collaborative was announced. “I was blown away because every mayor was there. So were council members and elected officials from each city.”
That was the plan. The Collaborative’s founders knew lasting change would have to start incrementally within city halls. The support and commitment of mayors and city managers was crucial, so that’s where they turned first.
Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher thinks back two decades to when he joined the city as a management intern.
“It would have been heresy to suggest narrowing a street,” he says. The opening of Chase Field in 1998 is a prime example. Leaders worried that people would be trapped in congestion after games.
“The idea was to get cars in and out as fast as possible,” Zuercher says. “That’s not where people are today.”
As a director of the Urban Land Institute’s Arizona office, Kristen Busby talks to her counterparts around the country. The subject of the Sustainable Communities Collaborative comes up regularly. Two years ago, it was featured for the 12,000 attendees of the Transportation Research Board conference in Washington, D.C.
“People all over the country look to the Sustainable Communities Collaborative as a model” for how to get things done in transit-oriented development, she says.
ANALYSIS BY ROBERT LEGER
The Sustainable Communities Collaborative is about to embark on a second chapter. This one will test whether pure collaboration is possible.
For the past six years, the Collaborative has brought diverse voices together, forged partnerships across the three cities on the original light-rail corridor, changed the conversation about transit-oriented development and become vital to many of its members. It has also leaned heavily on co-founder and executive director Shannon Scutari. Her departure presents an opportunity to re-imagine the future.
‘These things have a life cycle,” she says. “If we’re not willing to change, we don’t acknowledge that.”