Like the city-states of the ancient world, the modern metropolis has its own culture, import and export trade, sense of municipal pride and concentration of political power. Therefore, the mayors of these urban centers are vision casters, consensus builders and, in many ways, become the public face and part of the city’s brand. John Hugh “Buddy” Dyer is the 32nd mayor of Orlando and has served the city for over a decade.
On Orlando becoming a “World Class City” and the key elements in achieving that objective: When I first became mayor a local publisher told me, ‘Orlando has a little bit of an inferiority complex about what it can be.’ About five years later, that same person came to me and said, ‘The environment has really changed; we can come together in collaboration and partnership and achieve just about whatever we set out to do,’ sighting venues like SunRail or the Medical City. That is one aspect of being a World Class City – someone has to be the best and there is no reason why Orlando can’t be the best. In my observation, I think we work cooperatively better than just about any region in the U.S.
Secondly, a World Class City is one that celebrates the strength of diversity; we are a truly international city. And then, it is having the amenities like a great performing arts center and a sports arena that is second to none. Having these venues speaks to our commitment to the arts and enhancing the essence or quality of life in the city.
How Orlando is getting ahead of transportation issues: About 10 years ago, MyRegion did an exercise called, “How Shall We Grow?” looking at the reality that our population would double in the next 30 years. As a community, we realized we couldn’t continue with the characteristic urban sprawl; we needed to grow smarter, with denser nodes. To do that we needed a transit system that was an alternative to getting into your car – out of that was born SunRail. Five local governments unanimously voted to be funding partners, with 50 percent federally funded, 25 percent state funded and 25 percent funded locally. We started with the understanding that we were behind and this is a good first step. We still have to add components like getting to the airport and to the tourist corridor, but momentum is growing in the right direction.
Major transportation projects take decades; the key elements in maintaining momentum and consensus are: I’ve learned you have to work at collaboration and partnership; it’s not easy, but it is fundamentally important to moving any of these major initiatives forward. Of course you have to create and communicate a clear vision so that people understand where you are going; they aren’t going to join you unless the destination is well-defined. And be willing to share the credit and the responsibility along the way.
Then, when you meet obstacles, which inevitably come, you have to learn the art of compromise. You must figure out, study and try to understand the objectives of the opposition and finally, you just have to be persistent. A lot of people thought SunRail was dead when we lost in the second legislative session. That was a long drive back home for me, but the following Saturday morning I got back up and started over again. A quote I heard from the Austin, TX EDC was: ‘Unity of purpose, and continuity of effort.’ We changed it a little: ‘Clarity of vision and unity of purpose.’
On achieving major projects like the Amway Center: The ownership of the Magic were in negotiations to completely remodel the old arena when the 9/11 attack occurred and everything came to a screeching halt.
When I ran for the first time, one of the seven points of my platform was revitalizing the downtown. I commissioned a downtown strategic task force and they came up with 30 recommendations, 28 of which we have done. Two of those points were a performing arts facility and keeping the Orlando Magic. There was a consensus about building a performing arts center, but I didn’t want to be in a situation where the Magic said, ‘We need a new arena or we’re leaving.’ So we jumped out ahead of that. In my State of Downtown Orlando, in 2004, I laid out the vision of doing all three – build a new arts center, a new arena and remodel the Citrus Bowl.
I looked at other World Class Cities and realized they had amenities we didn’t come close to. We started talking about ‘public facilities’ and changed it to ‘community venues;’ we wanted ownership and sense that we were adding value to people’s lives. We combined all three in one vote, so groups weren’t competing against each other; rather they were cooperating for mutual benefit.
Key elements of vision casting are: 1. The leader forwarding the vision must listen and understand his audience. 2. You have to have established credibility, without that no one will trust your direction. When you say, ‘We are going to do something,’ we have to do it. 3. Honesty and truthfulness; you have to deal with people in a straightforward fashion. 4. Understand the art of communicating a vision, because most people aren’t able to see it at a conceptual stage. People didn’t understand the value of SunRail or the Amway Center, but when they walked in the first time, it was ‘ah-ha.’ Before the Center was built, it had a mid-30s approval rating. After it was done, 70s, 80s, 90s depending on how you asked the question. That would suggest to me that not everyone understood the vision when it was initially cast.
In measuring consensus: You’ll never have total consensus, therefore you have to calculate the risks, which is largely an intuitive art; there is no formula. There are formulas to analyze the data, but that never eliminates the risk and intuition necessary in decision making.