If we want to build a better society, we need to create better places.
Our work is shaped and driven by a mission, if you will by an obsession. We believe—no, we think we know—that people are nourished, social systems function better, when groups of people live in good places, with natural beauty, a fine built environment, and rich, interesting cultural life with lots of variety and connections between people, and that better places make for better, happier, even healthier, lives. What we are up to is understanding places, how they work, how they fail, how we can intervene to protect good places and improve bad places—and how that can improve all our lives.
A mission like this develops over time, and it begins (or it did with us) with a natural tendency to value interesting places. Then we got involved in promoting tourism for economic development, specifically to save our city, New Orleans, after the failure of the World’s Fair in 1984, the oil and gas crash of 1985 (the second in five years) and with the crash, the collapse of banking in the Gulf South (we lost 40,000 jobs in 18 months). That’s a big enough hit to take a city down. So as media people, turning to develop tourism in our city, we started with the basics – the most basic reason for traveling was not to see a tourist attraction and stay in a hotel, but to experience different places.
We started thinking and talking about place-based tourism then and about spreading the benefits widely in our city. The compound adjective place-based is fairly common now, but was unheard of then. Bit by bit we began pulling together different strands of thought about places: from architecture, planning, cultural geography, urban design, philosophy, systems thinking, sociology, economics, literature, brain science, ecology, preservation.
We learned the best contemporary methods of strategic planning, which are future-focused and systems-based. We have learned the uses and limits of developing tourism attractions, and the power of distinctive experiences. We have worked in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
Along the way we acquired specific skills, centering on the design, development, and marketing of places, often tourism destinations. We have created tourism marketing campaigns with measured efficiency as high as any we know of. We have helped a number of places create successful programs to develop, manage, and promote tourism and create asset-based economic development.
Slowly we came to understand that what we were learning about places was part of a much larger movement in contemporary thought: a shift from the mechanistic world-view that gave us the scientific method and an unshakeable belief in breaking things down into parts and dealing with one part at a time, toward a world-view better characterized by words like organic, holistic, gestalt, living, ecological, self-directing.
Often what brings us into a place is related to tourism or cultural tourism. When towns, cities, or regions are not getting all the benefits they want and should get from tourism, they sometimes decide to get help, and some of them turn to us. We frequently do strategic plans for tourism, and sometimes for a place in a wider context, or for an enterprise at a turning point.
But the underlying purpose, for us, has always been to make a place better, and to improve the lives of the people who live, work, and play there.
As consultants, we benefit when we understand and know how to do things others have not figured out. It’s what we have to sell. But at this point in our work, we want to share the insights we have acquired, and introduce other people—plenty of others—to this way of thinking. We want to offer talks and workshops and papers, and perhaps soon a book, that will persuade and enable others to join one of the (we think) heroic tasks of our time: to protect and enhance distinctive, living places, reaching across competencies to create more energy and connections, ideas and strategies, resulting in happy people and healthy places. We will keep our practice down-to-earth and practical, providing successful strategies for tourism design, development, and marketing, and working in very specific ways to improve places, because that is where real benefits happen and it is the matrix out of which the “big ideas” arise.
But we also want to be part of a very large change in thinking that is beginning to define our time and help to move it along a bit faster and create a deep well of understanding around these issues. We invite you to join us on the journey.