What makes a great city? It is a pressing question because by the year 2030 five billion people—60 percent of the world’s population—will live in cities, compared with 3.6 billion today, turbo-charging the world’s economic growth. But for the elected and appointed leaders who have the task of governing cities, it means challenging decisions are ahead. Most cities in Utah have to cope with rapid growth and urbanization on an unprecedented scale. The difference between adeptly managing these challenges or dealing with the fallout of haphazard growth and planning is the engagement of residents.
Many residents in South Jordan and along the Wasatch Front are becoming keenly aware of the environmental legacy they want to leave for their children and grandchildren. Local leaders carry the burden of finding more sustainable, resource-efficient ways of expanding their local economies and managing their cities. These elements are one way to measure a city’s performance—the strength of the economy, social conditions, and the environment. The South Jordan City Council prioritizes these items through its strategic planning process.
Leaders who make noticeable strides in improving their cities, no matter the starting point, do three things well: achieve smart growth, do more with less, and win support for change. Smart growth requires a strategic approach that identifies the best growth opportunities and nurtures them. This includes planning for growth demands, integrating environmental thinking, and ensuring that all residents enjoy their city’s prosperity. Integral to this effort is South Jordan’s adoption of a flexible urban plan that serves as a framework into which proposed projects fit. The plan establishes a set of guiding principles to assess new proposals, in contrast to documents created to determine the future once and for all. As a result, the plan evolves with changing needs while ensuring that the city progresses toward long-term targets. This level of flexibility requires a great deal of skill, and cities that excel at urban planning, like South Jordan, have multidisciplinary planning teams.
Few cities are awash with financial resources. In fact, their budgets are under pressure. The first step in doing more with less is to secure all revenues due and to do so at a low cost. Then, to make the most of the available fiscal resources, effective city leaders rigorously assess and manage expenses and evaluate programs, explore private partnerships, introduce investment accountability, and embrace technology. Cost-efficient operations are a hallmark of high-performing cities in good times and bad. Besides making the best use of taxpayers’ contributions, cost efficiency is essential for prudent budgeting. By staying financially lean during good economic times, cities can put funds aside to cover operating costs when tax revenue falls short, thus avoiding cuts to core services when circumstances change. That means the elimination of waste and deployment of limited resources for maximum impact are priorities at all times. South Jordan has strived in earnest to uphold this important part of fiscal management.
While achieving smart growth and doing more with less delivers results, no change effort is easy, and momentum in that direction can even attract opposition. Successful city leaders therefore need large reserves of resilience to see their vision through, but they cannot do it alone. South Jordan’s Mayor and City Council have recognized that to win long-term support for change they will need to deliver results swiftly. For that, they will need to build a high-performing team of civil servants, create a work environment where all employees are accountable for their actions, and take every opportunity to forge stakeholder consensus. South Jordan leaders have and will continue to reinforce a change-oriented vision. South Jordan has some of the best professionals in the business, and these outstanding employees power the city’s progress.
Ultimately, building consensus with the local population and the business community through transparency and two-way communication is key to success. Our Elected Mayor and City Council, along with city leadership, want everyone engaged. We want to listen to the neighborhoods. The story of change is not about the leadership of the city; it is about the engagement with residents. That engagement will ensure our vision of making residents’ lives better. -Gary L. Whatcott