A couple of years back I bought a lottery ticket for one of the mega-jackpots. It was about $350 million — one of those times when the possible pay out is so huge that almost everyone goes to buy a ticket. On one of the days between the purchase and the big drawing I found myself stuck on an airplance and I began daydreaming about what I might do with the winnings.
I quickly realized that after I had paid off the mortgage (and those of various family members), given the nieces and nephews money for college, and bought a few things, I’d still have a lot of money left over. It was then that I had the idea that became Small Cities, Second Chances — a proposal of sorts that asked if targeted micro investments could revive a city like New Bedford or Lawrence (both in MA), places that seem to languish economically despite their proximity to vital urban centers (Boston in this case).
Major investments like a sports stadium, condo complex, or mall never seem to be able to bridge the gap. I began looking at the challenge as one of system design and looked for opportunities where a relatively small investment could possibly deliver outsized returns. The things I advocate for in the Small Cities Prospectus combine public and private interests and include a number of support services such as coaching (this was written before social enterprise was a widely embraced concept). I specifically include investments that don’t come with a direct economic return, as I think that money looking for a return can be put to use in complementary investment, and don’t provide the chance to have something named after anyone (naming potential seems to attract traditional public sector investment). I want to plug the gaps, not eliminate these other efforts.
I view the prospectus as a starting point: some of the items I put forth might work and others might not. The elements that I see as critical, indeed essential, are commitment, creativity, and community. The small city in question must be able to demonstrate that a broad range of stakeholders are interested and engaged in the effort (commitment), that they are willing to try a number of new ideas and aren’t afraid to have some of them fail (creativity), and the effort must include people across the full demographic spectrum and put equal value on the public and private benefits and costs (community).
I still buy the occassional lottery ticket in hopes of being able to make this a reality. In the meantime, these ideas are offered under a Creative Commons license so you can use them for non-commerical purposes as long as you attribute the source. Or if you are an adventurous angel investor, let’s talk.