During the day, I work as an engineering consultant. I am often asked to produce a proposal for municipalities to help them decide to hire my firm to do some design work. The value of these proposals can anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000. For competitive bids, we are lucky to get a month from being told about the opportunity to when it is due. In that month, we have to find other consultants who’s skills we need, try and determine how long it will take us to produce drawings that the work can be built from, guess how long a contractor will take to build it and then wrap the whole thing up in a pretty, easy to read package, three hard copies and a PDF on a CD, please and thank-you.
If we are lucky enough to win the project, that same municipality then expects us to get the design done in 6-8 weeks. The cost of the works we design can range from $250,000 to $2.5 million and often take 6 months to 2 years for a contractor to complete. In case any of you are wondering exactly the nature of these “works”, just look outside. You see that grate where rain water goes during a storm? Well, it sits on top of a buried chamber that is connected to a pipe. That pipe is connected to more pipes, hopefully something that provides treatment and then outflows to a natural body of water somewhere. That’s the sort of thing I design along with water supply pipes, and sanitary sewage pipes. Exciting stuff!
Now, when I approach that same municipality with my “community organizer” hat on and want to organize a “Car Free” afternoon wherein we propose to close some streets to cars for 4 to 6 hours on one, single Sunday, they get worried that 6 months isn’t enough planning time!!! What gives!? I don’t even want them to pay me, and the total event budget is under $5,000 but six months isn’t enough time!??? Really? Yet I can plan several million dollars worth of infrastructure in 2 months and everyone is fine with that???
This causes me some concern. It also highlights some systemic flaws in the way we conduct business in North America and specifically with how our local governments act. Interested in bringing a local municipal government to its knees? Just complain about something – anything – make noise about “legal action” and watch them come to a grinding halt.
I’m not sure how to fix this, but I think we really need to. The way things work, its very difficult for an elected official to actually be a leader. The thing is, when you act as a leader, you will invariably piss someone off. I use this as my litmus test for deciding if I am doing the right thing or not. It’s not about how many people are happy with something I am planning, its whether or not I have annoyed the right people. Silly, isn’t it?
Excuse the long winded rant, I felt I really needed to get that off my chest. In the meantime, I am helping to plan this year’s Car Free Sunday for the Comox Valley, and we can use all the help we can get! Click “Attending” on the Facebook event page and ask to join Imagine Comox Valley to stay up to date with all of the latest developments. If you can do nothing else, come out for a walk, roller blade, bike ride, tango dance or run on June 17th!