Organizations benefit from planning. Governments too. Good strategic plans encourage people to work together toward common goals. Planning also promises to increase our chances of a better future. Unfortunately, our city council hasn’t created a long-range plan for our community.
One Sioux Falls
In 2018 Paul TenHaken became mayor and soon announced a concept he called “One Sioux Falls”. His intention was “to create a unified vision that people could get behind.” That goal of getting everyone on the same page was commendable. But I’m not sure the mayor’s plan lived up to its potential.
Our City Council Has Not Created a Plan
While the city pays for numerous expensive plans and studies, I am unaware of an overarching strategic vision for our city. Some current and former city council members tell me they never were involved in strategic planning for our community. And over the past couple decades, I don’t recall seeing any comprehensive and aspirational plans coming out of city hall.
Lacking an overall vision, the city inevitably sometimes stumbles. City leaders and workers don’t always work well together nor deliver the best service when everyone has their own view of where the city is headed. And that can open the door for other problems.
Without a Plan, Undesirable Growth Can Occur
Without an overarching plan, developers, businesses, schemers and volume-focused development officials drive growth in the city. I suspect that is how we end up adding more and more tough, low wage jobs to our community. For instance, in my view it was not in our community’s best interests for Amazon and a second slaughterhouse to arrive in town. Especially not when city leaders routinely fret about workforce availability and affordable housing.
Forward Sioux Falls, which promotes economic growth in our area, is currently putting together their version of a strategic plan for the community. Of course, I will be interested to see it. But their 2022 support for the slaughterhouse makes me wonder if the organization might be too growth focused, with inadequate attention given to quality of life. I think our community should discourage businesses and industries that tend to externalize their costs and offer low paying jobs.
Good plans not only tell you which opportunities to pursue, but also which to ignore.
The City Council Has the Power
Our city charter says that the city council is the “policy making and legislative body” in city government. But the city council has never been given the opportunity to plan. Or perhaps better said, they have not taken that opportunity. After all, the charter also states that “all powers of the city shall be vested in the city council”.
Instead, the mayor’s office runs the show. Admittedly that may be due to the lack of separation of the legislative and executive powers in city government (see my blog on that topic). Everybody seems too busy putting out fires and dealing with routine problems to plan.
And because the council has not created a plan to guide the city, they sometimes get pushed into last minute approvals of half-baked projects like the ill-fated Village on the River which years later is still a large downtown eye sore. More recently, the council was rushed to approve a single bid project with a cost nearly double the estimates, the 6th street bridge reconstruction. It was a vote some council members regretted the next day.
I wonder what sort of plan our city council might develop. What would the balance be between growth and quality of life? How would we like our city to be even better 5, 10 and 20 years from now? A council created plan might be innovative. Maybe inspirational. Certainly interesting. I’d like to think it would include the “One Sioux Falls” concept.
Sioux Falls as It Could Be
I have served as a facilitator in the creation of simple strategic plans for all sorts of organizations. I usually start my planning sessions talking about mission and vision. We then identify the most critical issues and draft a simple one sentence statement describing what we intend to do about each. The result is usually a one-page plan that can be surprisingly helpful in the year ahead and beyond.
“One Sioux Falls” is an aspirational vision. For me, it suggests that we could become one community, not a collection of neighborhoods, school districts and artificial government boundaries.
If I were in charge for a minute, I would establish the vision of one city government for the greater Sioux Falls area. In my view, our community is a single entity. I think we should all be in one county. And all our kids should be educated by the Sioux Falls school district. Think of the money we might save, and the turf battles we could avoid.
One side of town is as important as the next and should have equal access to government resources. No one should have a significant disadvantage in tax rates or government access based upon which part of town they live in.
Issues to Focus On
After establishing a vision for the community, I would next focus on some of the most critical issues we face. These would be opportunities we recognize or threats we face. Here are some of the statements of direction, in no particular order, I might suggest the city consider as a guide for our future.
- Jobs – We want to attract more well-paying, desirable jobs and we want to increase the average income of our citizens.
- Workforce – We want well trained workers available to support our best employers.
- Consolidation – For the sake of efficiency and fairness, we want one city government, one county government and one school district for the Sioux Falls metro area.
- Affordable Housing – We want adequate levels of affordable housing available in our community.
- Education – We want all kids to have access to high quality pre-K-12th grade schooling.
- Environment – We value clean air and water and will not support growth or industries that threaten either.
- Downtown – We want our downtown to be the clean, safe, lively, fun showplace of our community.
- Diversity – We want to welcome our newer residents and help them become an integral part of our community.
- Legislature – We want our local legislators to work together on issues important to our community.
This is my list. A plan put together by the city council would likely be much better and more comprehensive. I hope they someday find a way to get more involved in establishing a long-range vision for our community.
City council members, like ours, rarely have experience in administration of public works, parks, police or other city services. They are politicians foremost, or, the next best option because no one else wanted to be a council member. Some points of yours are fair, but saying a group of these current council members can develop a unified plan is quite a stretch. A far stretch. If we had a city that was managed by a council-manager form of administration instead of mayor-council, then we wouldn’t go through such shapeshifts when new mayors come and go. If we could have the right City Manager and Assistant City Manager roles, everyone could benefit. That way, the mayor would then act similarly as a council member, and the City Manager would lead the show, a much stronger decision maker. By having a council-manager administration, the mayor would act more as a ceremonial figure and spokesperson, instead of decidedly managing city budgets, or long-term planning. Also, how many of our council members have a Masters in Public Administration? Just something to ponder when we think about putting full trust and advocacy in elected council members. They may represent us as people, but they may also not know how to get all parts of their job done effectively or professionally. Also, people who say they have a plan – should show the plan when they say they have one.
Bravo, Joe Kirby. “Without an overarching plan, developers, businesses, schemers and volume-focused development officials drive growth in the city.” I believe this is the most salient assertion in your blog post. We now have widespread evidence of “growth for growth’s sake’ in SF: rising crime, workforce housing shortage, immense cheap dairy-barn looking multi story apartment buildings, ‘taupeville’ outlying residential developments, an ignored ‘elephant in the room’ eye/olfactory-sore central meat packing plant, and ugly, neglected interstate gateways to our city, ie West 12th Street, North Cliff Avenue and Minnesota Avenue. It’s time to pump the brakes. Admittedly, our population & economic growth has trounced our once-equal IA neighbor Sioux City – the SF Area Community Foundation & SFDevelopment Foundation have done an admirable job. But, the forward vision has been co-opted by greedy opportunists. It’s past time to reassert the role of our multi-member City Council vs mayoral influence to rein in this growth for the benefit of ALL residents citywide.
In the words of the great philosopher Paul Simon, “Make a new plan, Stan.”
I agree wholeheartedly with one of your central points (and by implication several others too.) In a market-based society, there is a strong tendency to favor growth (a quantitative concept and the source of profits) over development (a qualitative concept; your phrase “quality of life.”) I think that far too often these distinctly different concepts are conflated. More precisely, I think a lot of people implicitly assume that growth necessarily begets development. It doesn’t. From a societal vantage point, bigger ain’t necessarily better. Obviously, some individuals benefit greatly from advancing (and lobbying for) the growth agenda over everything else. Properly functioning governmental entities should always strive to strike an appropriate balance between growth and development which is reflective of the community’s values. That’s a difficult task on a good day (even within an environment devoid of hyper partisanship.) It’s likely not a part-time job.
As always, I enjoy viewing your perspective on things SuFu and beyond.
I’ll now hop on the bus (with Gus, who don’t need to discuss much)
Good article, however, in order to understand Sioux Falls, we need to go back all the way to the beginning back to the period of 1840 to 1870. That vision for the area that was to become known as “The Big Bend of the Sioux River” was already being created, the plan was to develop a “Progressive Governing Process” with the goal to prosper from the land, the resources, minerals, let alone the commercial activity itself.
What began as the Village of Sioux Falls as a small 160 acre homestead, along side Sioux Falls City of which was another 160 acre homestead claim, became by the year 1879 as the Town of Sioux Falls.
“The Plan” from the beginning was to vision a City of which the people would become one upon the land, of which the landowners, the property holders would pool their assets to lend to each other to build out the Public Roads, Infrastructure, to Provide for Public Things, Public Events in order to progressively grow the area, with the goal to generate tax dollars to provide services to the residents.
The City was build by investors, businessmen and women, led by Samuel Mcdary, W.W Brookings, Ricahrd Pettirgrew, the Van Ep Family, the Phillips Family, and more.
The Dakota Land Company out of St. Paul wanted to build their rail road connection from Chicago, to St. Paul, to Sioux Falls, to Omaha onward to Kansas City to New Mexico;
The Western Town Company wanted to build a strong town along the River, with the goal to populate the area, by Economically investing in the resource,s minerals, and industry.
Led by by that common vision, led by a group of Businessmen and women, the goal was to profit from each each other, let alone grow the residency to produce a high return on the investment made by the investors – the landowners, the property holders, the ‘company men and women of the organization
The City of Sioux Falls is made of small communities by the name of: East Sioux Falls, South Falls, West Sioux Falls, the Town of Sioux Falls, Split Rock Township, Mapleton Township, Delapre Township, Wayne Township, and all of the smaller 80 acre farmsteads within the area today.
That “Economic Plan” was put in motion as far back as 1840, and today, it has progressed onward to the point in time we are today.