The Secrets of Successful Communities

Ed McMahon

ULI Senior Resident Fellow Ed McMahon reveals the secrets to successful communities in this seven-part series for the Planning Commissioners Journal.

As the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy, McMahon leads ULI’s worldwide efforts to conduct research and educational activities related to environmentally sensitive development policies and practices. He is also a senior staff adviser for ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative.

The Secrets to Success

Every “successful” community has its own strengths and weaknesses, but they all share some common characteristics.

Part 1: Have a Vision for the Future

Failing to plan simply means planning to fail. It is difficult to name any successful individual, organization, corporation or community that doesn’t plan for the future.

Part 2: Inventory Community Assets

Creating a vision for the future begins by inventorying a community’s assets: natural, architectural, human, educational, economic, and so on.

Part 3: Use Education and Incentives, Not Just Regulation

Successful communities use education, incentives, partnerships, and voluntary initiatives, not just regulation. While regulations prevent the worst in development, they rarely bring out the best.

Part 4: Pick and Choose Among Development Projects

All development is not created equal. Some development projects will make a community a better place to live, work, and visit. Others will not. Communities that will not say no to anything will get the worst of everything.

Part 5: Cooperate With Neighbors for Mutual Benefit

Elected officials have historically tended to view neighboring communities and the county government as adversaries rather than allies. Successful communities know the value of cooperation and understand that the real competition today is between regions.

Part 6: Pay Attention to Community Aesthetics

The image of a community is fundamentally important to its economic wellbeing.

Part 7: Have Strong Leaders and Committed Citizens

A small number of committed people can make a big difference.

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