by Howard J. Grossman, AICP
There is a saying that “the best way of predicting the future is to invent it.” The opportunity exists in the Pocono-Northeast to focus attention on the ability of citizens and officials in this region to invent their future in such a way to guarantee the assets of regional life expand, and the liabilities become part of the past and not the future.
Consider what Emma Lazarus wrote in a poem that now appears at the Statue of Liberty, defining the statue as the “Mother of Liberty” and the famous words of “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Jon Meachem, in his book “The Soul of America,” told the story of how this nation became what it is today, based on history and the belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times. It is a story of this region as well, with immigration feeding the regional stories of our people, our times and our action.
Presidents have come and gone, and leaders of this region have come and gone, but the truth is that there always has been a springboard of leadership, and the future is being invented by millennials, baby boomers and those in between and extended beyond. Every age group in the region has something to add. Yet, while older histories have been written and can be purchased, newer volumes need to be established to demonstrate what has been accomplished in more modern times.
Meachem’s 402-page book should be reading material for students, elected and appointed officials and citizens throughout the region.
John F. Kennedy is quoted as saying “leadership; is persuasion, conciliation, education and patience.” These characteristics are essential ingredients across the regional landscape if we are to invent our future.
In fact, the various ways to invent the future and have predictability is to have futurists meet periodically cross regional life, as was the case in the late 1980s and 90s when the then president of Wilkes University convened a group of futurists to discuss major national, state and regional-local priorities, through the telescope of the regional chapter of the World Future Society, which had been led for years by the then executive director of the Economic Development Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania (ECCNP), now called the NEPA Alliance. These monthly meetings no longer exist, but perhaps could be picked up again through a combination of various regional colleges and universities.
Futurism could also be addressed by electronic and print media columns that could talk about how the future can be driven by the past and the present.
Ronald Reagen, in his Farewell Address in January 1989, talked about the “city upon a hill” as a sign of America’s generosity of spirit, basing it on what John Winthrop said in the three centuries previous. The same conditions prevail inside this region as a collection of actions that can help invent a regional future.
In a political sense, the need exists regionally to not only support your candidate, but understand what the opposition is saying, what they believe and what they think.
This is sought in Meachem’s book, in which he states, “wisdom generally comes from free exchange of ideas, and there can be no free exchange of ideas if everyone on your side already agrees with one another.”
It is critical that this thought process be incorporated into the region’s inventing its future. Here are some ways this can be implemented:
■ Re-establish a futurism process in the region and have appropriate people meet to discuss the priority issues affecting the future. Have the various colleges join together and create a futurism atmosphere throughout the region. Involve the World Future Society in this regard.
■ The regional future should be based on modern planning principles and the establishment of a regional plan that highlights the economic, environmental, social, energy and other factors that help mobilize a better quality of life in the next 25-50 years.
■ Every citizen family has a viewpoint that may or may not be valid; however, opinion surveys can help define how regional citizens view their roles and what the priorities will be in inventing a future. Therefore, over time, regional surveys should be conducted to begin to compare and contrast such results, and focus groups established to make these opinion survey results more valid and consistent sources of regional beliefs.
■ A regional citizens’ entity should be considered as a means to have the public deeply involved in deciding on what type of future needs to be invented. This organization should meet frequently, be thorough in developing its ideas and have as many categories of citizen types inclusive in carrying out its role.
■ The media should encourage inventing the future in the region by establishing columns and editorials on futurism and how this pathway can help mobilize new thoughts and functions that benefit how our geography can be more competitive in coming decades.
The “Soul of America” can be a springboard to focusing on the astonishing assets and positive factors which can drive this region to evaluating its own soul as a proven demonstration of hope and refreshing change in the generations ahead.