Dream.

That'd be my advice if you're planning to participate in Tuesday evening's Grand Junction Visioning Workshop at 6 p.m. in the Avalon Theatre. It's the first step in the city's effort to develop a new comprehensive plan — to have the community "help craft a vision for the future of Grand Junction."

They're two different things really, a vision and a plan. The vision, that "dream," is the desired destination — the sort of future community you'd like your kids to enjoy. The plan which follows is the roadmap on how to get there. They're both intertwined and vital, but there's no need for a map if you don't have a destination in mind.

The best explanation for that sort of vision came long ago from French author and World War II pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work," he said, "but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

We're short on coastlines around here but not, I suspect, on our individualized desires for the "one Grand Junction" that's the hoped for end result of the next 18 months of work. Most of that time will be consumed by the nuts and bolts, fleshing out the technicalities of implementation, the roadmap. That's why time up front choosing the destination, the session Tuesday evening, is so important.

The prospect of sitting in the back of the room at the Avalon watching what those participating in the process come up with brings to mind a couple of similar exercises undertaken by previous city councils.

The Vision 2020 effort was completed in 2001 in a very different sort of process, one that engaged more community residents than the Avalon can hold, meeting them over time on their own turf rather than calling them to one location on a specific night. Other than funding, it was conducted independent of local governments, getting direction instead from a steering committee of community members, many of whom are still around.

Here are the first few sentences of the vision created nearly two decades ago:

"It is the year 2020 and the Grand Valley is a distinctive geographic area with a sustainable unity of the physical, social, and economic environments. Agriculture is flourishing due to honoring the natural wealth of the landscape within which the valley, its discrete communities, and wildlife thrive. Innovative talents, born out of the historic roots of isolation have fostered and developed an atmosphere where civic entrepreneurs are thriving. The economy is diversified and self-sufficient, architecturally unique villages with parks and other friendly areas necessary for healthy living dot the landscape."

The other similar activity came a few years later, a 2004 invitation-only session on housing issues that included business people, government officials, housing professionals and consumers of affordable housing. Electronic polling, which offers the opportunity to weigh in anonymously, produced results that still astound me.

After a day spent learning, the majority of those present thought commercial developers should pay impact fees to mitigate demands for affordable housing caused by their projects. Two-thirds said residential developers should be required to build a portion of each development in the affordable range. The majority agreed we shouldn't rely on government or nonprofits to provide affordable housing.

Fifteen years later, a tight housing market might encourage dreaming about making affordable homes a community responsibility rather than leaving it to the vagaries of the marketplace and a few nonprofits and government agencies. Perhaps we help with affordability by continuing to diversify our economy, looking forward rather than wistfully back at the temporary and perhaps not-so-good old days. Maybe sustainability is encouraged by requiring all new construction embrace building practices now offered voluntarily by some contractors. Maybe the vision includes linking our valley together via canal banks many of us already use in addition to trails along the riverfront and white lines on streets and roads.

If Tuesday evening is a true visioning process, it'll be less about maps and numbers, rules and regulations, dollars and cents. It'll be about dreams and desires, opportunities to be pursued, goals for next 20 years of community efforts.

And about how to engage our entire community, not just the usual suspects and those at the Avalon one particular night, in making those dreams a reality.

Jim Spehar's been down this road before, with mixed results. Comments are welcome. Send them to speharjim@gmail.com.

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