In a comment to one of my essays in this series, my friend Paul said this:
“No quarrel from me with the abstract notion that a unified regional government would work better. The problem is how to get there from where we are.”
I get that a lot. “How do we get there from here?”
The answer is “one step at a time.”
Imagine for a minute sitting around a kitchen table somewhere in the United States in 1949, having a beer with a couple of scientists and engineers who know something about the technology of flying. Someone says:
“You know, it would be a really good thing if we sent a man to the moon and brought him back. Wouldn’t that be great?”
You reply, “No quarrel from me with the abstract notion that going to the moon would be great. The problem is how to get there from where we are.”
That conversation happened, somewhere. Just like that. Twenty years later people were walking on the moon.
The only difference between walking on the moon and restructuring the government of greater Hartford is a difference in perspective. Walking on the moon seems simple today, because we did it 50 years ago. All Neil Armstrong had to do in the summer of 1969 was take one small step. From the perspective of 1949, walking on the moon didn’t look simple, it looked impossible.
I’ve never said creating one city out of seven or eight or ten would be easy. It won’t be easy. It’s complicated.
But I’ve also never said it’s impossible, and I will argue forever with those who claim it is. I know it isn’t impossible because cities around the country already have effected similar large-scale changes to how they govern and finance themselves.
Solving complex problems isn’t a mystery. People have studied and described the process. George Polya wrote a book 1945 about how to solve problems – How to Solve It; mathematicians, scientists and philosophers still study Polya’s simple little book.
Solving problems starts with defining the problem: Where do we want to end up? In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says “start with the end in mind.” Polya called it working backward.
What did those people talk about, sitting around that kitchen table in 1949? Starting with the end, the moon, in mind, they identified different aspects of the problem:
How do we overcome gravity?
How do we provide air to breathe?
How do we steer the spacecraft?
Where do we get the money?
How do we convince other people to help us?
They developed a plan and they went to work. They recruited, worked, delegated, reconvened, reshaped the process, studied, tried some things (like launching rockets), failed at some things (like launching rockets), talked, despaired, laughed, invented some things. Along the way they discovered new parts of the problem, so they revised the plan. The only Nikes in those days were missiles, not sneakers, but nevertheless, those people just did it.
In 1949, there were 150 million people living in the United States, and it took only three or four of them sitting around some kitchen table to get started. When they finished, 400,000 people had worked on the Apollo project alone, and countless others had contributed to the Mercury and Gemini projects and everything that led up to them. When those three or four began, television was a novelty. Twenty years later, over 500 million people watched televisions in their living rooms, in school rooms and in their workplaces as Armstrong took that step.
Did those three or four people have all the answers when they started? Of course not. They didn’t even know all the questions. Still, they started.
Reshaping the governance of greater Hartford is no different. No one has the answer to all the question, but it’s just a complex problem to solve. And it isn’t rocket science. Start with the end in mind and get to work. Three or four people just have to get going. They probably need an organization like I described in my essay Getting Started With Hartford On The Move.
I don’t know for sure, but I believe that there are thousands of people in greater Hartford who agree with Paul: a unified government would work better. And just about all of them don’t know how to get there from here. Well, in 1949 probably 99+% of 150 million Americans didn’t know how to get from the earth to the moon. All those Americans needed then, and all people around greater Hartford need now, is for three or four people to get to work and just do it.