Friday, September 15, 2006

Vision (or the lack of it)

"Dumaguete City, a city of Gentle People, envisions to become an ecologically-balanced and peaceful city, a center of sustainable development and quality wholistic education with self-reliant, socially responsible, morally upright, and highly empowered people by 2015."

Thus goes the vision statement of Dumaguete. If you didn't know we had one, you can thank the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) for prompting it from the local government and Philippine City Competitiveness Ranking Project (PCCRP) for coaxing it out of its chest of secrets. Still, questions probably remain as to its provenance. Who crafted the vision, and more importantly, does it have the buy-in of the population at large?

In the first place, one might ask if a vision statement is of any relevance to a city of Dumaguete. Years of badly written corporate vision statements, skewered in countless Dilbert cartoons, have turned vision statements into a joke. So how much more for a city with a reputation, deserved or not, that does not seem to care?

Yet underneath all this cynicism, there's still the wisp of hope, of longings for a better tomorrow. For this reason, articulating a vision that resonates with the community becomes an imperative. If the vision statement is a joke, it's because it was a joke to begin with, a slapdash piece of work cobbled together to fill the requirements of a workshop.

So now the question for the reader: as a Dumagueteno, how do you feel about this vision statement?

A vision statement, according to one definition, describes in graphic terms where the goal-setters see themselves in the future. It's the ideal state, as it were. As such, it has to be something grand and inspiring. At the same time, it must be clear as to its purpose and objective.

So another question: does the vision statement above have those characteristics?

Let's dissect the main points of the vision statement.

"...a city of Gentle People..." really describes nothing new about Dumaguete. It's been the city's tagline for the longest time, a distinction bestowed supposedly by Jose Rizal during his overnight stay on these shores. I'm willing to forgive its presence in the statement if only as an assertion of our present identity.

"...envisions to become an" Here I begin to have a problem. We all know of the passionate environmental dedication of the city at large, and I can understand why the crafters of the statement want to pay homage to it. But what exactly do you mean by ecological balance?

Ecological balance is defined as "a state of dynamic equilibrium within a community of organisms in which genetic, species and ecosystem diversity remain relatively stable, subject to gradual changes through natural succession." By definition, a vision of ecological balance is incompatible with any human expansion. It's a perfectly acceptable objective to set for a nature preserve, but it reaches a point of absurdity when applied as a measure to a city. On the other hand, if the vision crafters want to create a nature preserve out of Dumaguete, they should just say so.

"...a peaceful city..." has a negative connotation. It somehow brings to mind the picture that Dumaguete has become a war zone of sorts. If it is our vision to become a peaceful city, it somehow implies that we are not now a peaceful city. While we may complain about the rising incidents of criminality in the city, we are not, objectively speaking, a hotbed of lawless violence.

"...a center of sustainable development..." Sustainable development, wonderful as it sounds, is one of the new cliches that have sprung from the new environmental politics. Sustainable development is "the process of developing land, cities, business, and communities, so as to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." It's a laudable guideline, but it does not constitute a vision for the simple reason that it is too vague. Developing into...what? What do we want to be? That is the question that a vision statement is supposed to answer.

" of...quality wholistic education..." Finally! we reach some level of specificity! Becoming a center for quality wholistic education is a concrete objective, worthwhile and inspiring. But holding that for a vision is a hundred years too late, isn't it? It simply describes what Dumaguete already is.

"...with self-reliant, socially responsible, morally upright, and highly empowered people..." We want to become in the future what we are not today. Does this mean, then, that Dumaguetenos are dependent, irresponsible, immoral, and lazy?

The problem with the vision statement as given above is that it is not a vision statement. It is a statement of what we are now, or to put it a little more bluntly, the illusions of what we think we are now. It is meant not so much to set a direction for the city as it is a pat on the back.

It says, "we are comfortable with the status quo." And that, merely shows a lack of ambition and a lack of imagination.