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Preaching to the Choir PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Tuesday, 15 August 2006 22:49

Most anyone paying attention to urban development in the Quad Cities is familiar with Dan Carmody. Carmody spent 18 years reinventing and re-energizing Rock Island as director of Renaissance Rock Island. He recently accepted a similar position in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (See "The Man Behind Rock Island Renaissance," River Cities' Reader, October 19, 2005.)

Over the years, the Reader has often written about Carmody's projects and ideas, including the most recently published "Vacation Manifesto: Radical Ideas to Grow the Quad Cities" (River Cities' Reader, June 14, 2006).

Davenport's Third Ward alderman, Keith Meyer, upon reading that "manifesto," requested that the city hire Carmody to speak to city leaders regarding his ideas and other important growth issues.

Subsequently, the City of Davenport Design Center hosted a presentation by Carmody, at the Figge Art Museum inside the Deere Auditorium last Monday evening. The event was billed "A Game of Twenty Civic Questions: a lively, interactive session that considers key questions for successful regional development with emphasis on urban core development and global issues."

In typical form, Carmody's talk was an entertaining and educational fusion of history, geography, economics, architecture, political and social commentary, and humor. Sadly, however, Alderman Meyer's intentions to inspire and inform Davenport city leaders went largely unrealized as only three aldermen (Meyer, Hamerlinck, and Frink), the mayor, and two or three city staffers were present. In fact, the room of more than 60 people was primarily composed of Rock Islanders, most of whom were already versed in Carmody's long-term visions and ideas for incremental and integrated regional growth for the Quad Cities.

For those with a genuine vested interest in seeing our area grow, the following high points of Carmody's presentation are well worth sharing.

First, the Quad Cities area must regionalize or it will not be able to compete globally. Second, inclusiveness and transparency are critical to building the trust necessary to achieve successful community-built projects. Third, due to global energy demands and economic forces, communities must focus more than ever on density.

Carmody stressed "Seven Cardinal Civic Virtues" and "Seven Cardinal Civic Sins." The seven virtues are Industrious, Transparent, Sensible, Confident, Just, Trust, and Inclusive. Conversely, the seven sins are Complacent, Excessive, Decadent, Greedy, Arrogant, Distrust, and Myopic.

Another thought-provoking comparison was Carmody's "Words That Halt Progress" versus "Words That Drive Progress." Conservative vs. Liberal halts while Dynamic vs. Stagnant drives. Wasting taxpayers' dollars halts while return on investment drives. Cronyism halts while leveraging public investment drives. Back-room deals halt while public-private partnership drives. Boondoggle halts while transparency drives. "It's who you know" halts while "it's what you know" drives. Carmody was quick to point out that these phrases are not just "spin" but behavior communities and leaders have to exhibit to succeed.

Carmody expanded on the above concepts with his EIEIO theory for urban-development organizations having five key components: Effective (wining the battle for community resources); Incremental (there are no silver bullets, the job is never done); Entrepreneurial (not-for-profits need diverse funding sources); Inclusive (what does the next Warren Buffett look like?); and Organic (context and authenticity).

Transparency and inclusiveness were echoed time and again as the primary elements of successful development projects. Transparency and inclusiveness are key factors that will put this community over the top and allow it to attract and retain the new young talent that will grow and enrich this region's quality of life. Without transparency, communities will continue to be divisive and lacking trust in the process. Without inclusiveness communities will miss out on the next successful talent right under their noses, e.g., the next Warren Buffett.

Dan Carmody's leadership formula And leadership is what drives this inclusive and transparent growth environment. Carmody unveiled his own formula illustrating what he considers to be the essential ingredients for successful leadership: "Responsibility times the sum of enthusiasm and passion times gumption, humility, and humor over knowledge equals success over time which equals leadership."

He ought to know; he's been there, done that.

Carmody ended his talk with a primer on global economics and energy statistics. Space and time don't allow for a thorough analysis here, but suffice it to say that our oversized households and declining occupancy rates along with our petroleum-based consumption economy with an end result of garbage/waste will not sustain America as we know it much longer. Higher energy costs will impact how we build livable communities and the extended family household will make a triumphant return.



Disappointed as I was at the lack of participation from the Davenport civic leaders and economic-development community, I did come away with ideas for two action steps this community can take immediately to capitalize on the concepts and ideas Carmody shared.

(1) Implement Carmody's great idea for an RFP for a targeted urban rehab and business development project that is limited to applicants 25 years old and younger. However, all five downtowns should implement this same process for one of their opportunities (e.g., Davenport's Freight House) simultaneously. Further, publicizing and administering this effort could be a primary focus of the newly established Chamber Alliance and should be a national news story.

(2) Host a series of quarterly 20 Civic Questions sessions, hosted by Carmody - bringing in additional speakers to drill down even further on specific focus areas. Carmody's up for the challenge. But make attendance mandatory for the sponsoring city's planning and zoning commissioners, downtown economic development staff and boards, aldermen, and all city department heads. And, somehow, somehow, compel the leading commercial developers (Ryan, Estes, Kaizen, etc.) and the leading commercial realtors (Ruhl, Foster, etc.) to attend. Carmody said he would much rather have a hostile crowd than one just nodding at his ideas.

We will not see real change amongst this community's leadership until they are confronted with and acknowledge many of the precepts shared by Carmody this past Monday. It's not magic and it's not rocket science. Carmody's just the messenger of the realities this community needs to embrace if it is going to succeed in the 21st Century.


Video clips of Carmody's presentation can be found at (, and links to articles cited here can be found at the Reader's Web site.


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