Monday, August 9, 2021

Ask Arefin

New councilmember Arefin Shamsul hosted a coffee klatsch at Communion Coffee. Attendees were encouraged to "Ask Arefin." Unfortunately, I didn't attend. My bad. But I do want to thank Councilmember Arefin for doing this. Listening to constituents is important. Let me repeat that. Listening to constituents is important. But so is keeping constituents informed so they can ask informed questions. That means two-way communication. It's important to explain to constituents the constraints the city faces in meeting their careabouts.

I have some understanding of what Arefin was asked. I don't know what Arefin answered. Let me offer what I would have answered.

According to one account, one constituent is not troubled by a proliferation of fast-food chicken places in her neighborhood. Another wonders if the City should be spending money on public art when so many streets are in need of repair.

In my response, I would have said that managing a city is a matter of making trade-offs. In project management, this is known as the triple constraint, or the Project Management Triangle.

"The project manager can trade between constraints: ...For example, a project can be completed faster by increasing budget or cutting scope. Similarly, increasing scope may require equivalent increases in budget and schedule. Cutting budget without adjusting schedule or scope will lead to lower quality."

Managing cities is like managing a whole bunch of projects all at once, all with their own triple constraints. The trade-offs are unbelievably complex. But, to simplify: a city has to choose among Taxes, Services, and Form. A city full of pad site restaurants (Form) will have lesser value than a city with a denser, more walkable form. Value, in turn, determines how much revenue (Taxes) will be available for maintaining the streets (Services). Until residents start caring about the proliferation of pad site restaurants, Richardson will always be stretched thin funding street maintenance.

You can't make up the difference by short-changing the relatively small budget for public art. In fact, an argument can be made that public art contributes to people wanting to live in a city, which contributes to the value of the development in that city, which contributes to the tax revenue, which contributes to the ability to afford street maintenance. These are all complex interactions, and residents need to care about all of them in order to choose wisely among the inevitable trade-offs a councilmember is faced with. If you try to squeeze that triangle too tightly, the middle, the city's quality of life, is strangled.

That's what I would say. That's what I hope a councilmember would say. I'll try to make it to the next coffee klatsch so I can say it myself.


plg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
plg said...


Great brief lesson, sir! This is something to keep in our back pockets & apply to future conversations.