W hat can come of 159 hand- picked people cloistering themselves to talk for three days about community issues?
No one knows, but we should find out via the Tucson Regional Town Hall that begins Sunday evening and runs to Wednesday afternoon at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort.
We endorse the process, but with a dose of skepticism for these reasons:
● Tucson already is having a lot of community conversations about the future from economic, cultural, social and environmental viewpoints.
All that talk is cheap. Follow-up by way of action, we fear, may well be scarce, as it has been in the past.
In short, we’re great at planning, lousy at execution.
● Organizers have set an overly ambitious agenda that starts with an overview of regional values and then goes into 14 topics and subtopics.
How much progress can be made on all those topics in the 18 hours total allotted for discussion? That’s one hour, 15 minutes per topic, on complex issues such as downtown revitalization, transportation, land-use planning, water, education and health care.
Advocates say this process will be different because it brings all conversants together under one roof, along with the most important topics.
That, we believe, will prove to be key to the Town Hall’s success or what drives a stake into its heart.
So much conversation and idea generation may be so overwhelming that focus can’t be brought to bear on what to act upon or how.
Despite those potential pitfalls, we do endorse the Town Hall because:
● The Tucson region desperately needs focus and coordination among far-flung constituencies.
Sometimes it seems that all we have in common is geography. That’s a starting point, and the Town Hall has the potential to take us beyond.
● The highly respected Peter Likins chairs the effort.
Likins is the retired president of the University of Arizona and is heading the Town Hall as vice chair of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, which has organized the event.
● In any group of 159 people, there’s bound to be a rebel, a loner, a nonconformist or even a crackpot who can help start breaking the mold so that new, different and effective ideas can emerge and be embraced.
We need unpredictable and cutting-edge ideas to move us away from what in many ways is our small-town attitude, which on one hand can be quaint and on the other quite limiting.
Consider this an expression of hope, tinged with skepticism, that the Tucson Regional Town Hall will get us beyond its slogan of “realizing the possibilities” to incorporating the possibilities as realities in the future development of our region.
‘Usual suspects’ at Town Hall
Organizers of the Tucson Regional Town Hall promised wide diversity among the representatives selected for the process.
They promised that minorities, people of different economic classes and young adults would be included.
They fell short of that mark, and we hope it doesn’t hurt the outcome.
Many on the list of 159 delegates could be called the “usual suspects.”
That is, they are mostly people who have been at the forefront in one way or another for a long time. Their inclusion is essential, but where are the new voices, the fresh faces, the odd people out from our region?
Minorities in particular seem underrepresented. One in 7 Town Hall delegates is Hispanic, yet more than 1 in 3 in the region are. Town Hall representation of American Indians and African- and Asian-Americans is even worse.
Who was not invited may prove to be just as important as who was.