This article first appeared as a weekly column in The Finger Lakes Times:
Homeostasis is, “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium.” In other words, balance.
We hear a lot about balance these days; it is the thing everyone seems to seek in hopes that it brings peace and happiness. In highly stressful moments, balance is the greenest of grasses on the other side of the hill we cannot get to. It is seductive.
Whether for cities, neighborhoods, or individuals, the allure of landing in that sweet spot of equilibrium is the hope. But the reality is that once we arrive there, we have to keep moving or risk decline. Resting on past accomplishments, and attempting to preserve what we have, just like we have it, is a loser’s game.
The reason attempting to preserve a particular moment in time, or ambiance, or way of doing things is a mistake, is that everything else around us is changing. Change is the nature of the universe, and economics – whether global or local. Trying to keep things just the way they are requires greater and greater amounts of energy and other resources to fend off the natural forces of change agitating all around us, all of the time. Eventually, whatever resources we bring to bear to hold off the change, will be overwhelmed by the sheer accumulative power of driving forces at work against us. Think of the story about the boy with his finger in the dyke trying to hold off the ocean behind it.
That is not to say that all change is progress, or that all change is good. It is, however, a promise that change will take place whether we want it or not. It is better then, to plan for change and guide it as best we can toward our desired outcomes rather than simply say “no,” resist as long as we can, and then be swept away when finally it overcomes our ability to stop it.
When I first moved to Buffalo, New York, it was a city that had resisted change tooth and nail for decades. The price it paid was horrendous decline. The powers that be fought over the scraps, while those without power survived the best they could. Finally, the generation that did everything it could to hold back change gave way to a new generation, and new leadership. Then amazing things took place, and Buffalo is in a spectacular renaissance.
Geneva is experiencing a renaissance, and all of us would do well to support it as best we can, and further positive change even when it means it may not be exactly what we desire. The power of “no” for any city is debilitating, as when leaders have temper tantrums and use all their resources to prevent change. Sitting on “no” leads to decline for everyone. The power of “yes,” when people come together and work toward transformation, is awesome and helps to lift all boats.