“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”

Rahm Emanuel’s statement about not wasting a serious crisis was music to my ears and anyone committed to real change in their downtowns should keep it always in mind during this very trying recession.

Two of the socio-economic theorists I most admire, the American economist Mancur Olson and the French sociologist MIchel Crozier, forcefully argued that real change in most social, economic and political systems can only occur during a crisis. During the non-crisis periods they’ve become ossified, paralyzed, stalemated and bureaucratized by powerful interest groups. For change to occur the existing system must be severely shaken — and that is exactly what a crisis does. A crisis greases a paralyzed system and enables real, meaningful — not just incremental — change.

Now is the time for downtown leaders to think BIG, to come up with innovative programs, perhaps in areas their organizations have not ventured before. These programs certainly will be of value during the recession, but have even more utility when the economy turns around. For example, I think that the vast majority of downtown organizations now need to get much more involved in helping small businesses find financing. I also think that BID/SID advertising and promotional programs based on the “old media” need to be overhauled. BID expansion is another possibility. I am certain you can come up with your own list of possibilities. Now is the time to undertake such ventures!

Long ago, I was told that in the Chinese language the character that means crisis also means opportunity.

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