Big-time heartware in downtown Richmond

Dan Slone spends a lot of time thinking about how to build more prosperous, livable and sustainable communities (see previous post). His thinking integrates bodies of thought from the green movement, which is all about creating sustainable communities, and New Urbanism, where the main emphasis is creating livable places. Dan is a visionary but he’s acutely aware that we live in a society of finite resources and that our ability to implement cool ideas is constrained by the private sector’s need for profits and the public sector’s fiscal capacity.

Elected officials and planners expend most of their mental energy on what Slone figuratively calls municipal hardware and software. Hardware refers to physical infrastructure like transportation, public works, utilities and public buildings. Software refers to things like zoning codes and the rules of governance. But there is a third, relatively neglected element that’s just as important when it comes to creating livable communities — what he terms heartware.

Heartware considers the beauty and aesthetics of the built environment, Slone said this morning in a C3 address in Richmond. It integrates biophilia, or the love of the living environment. It encompasses the sense of community and belonging, and it is informed by the sense of “place” that makes a neighborhood special, unique and authentic.

“Heartware elements don’t fall within our fiscal analysis but they have fiscal consequences,” he said. Business leaders take into consideration a region’s hardware and software when considering where to invest their capital. But they also consider the heartware. They ask themselves, “Will I like being here? Will my employees want to come here?”

I think it’s a useful taxonomy. In the knowledge economy, in which people are quite literally an organization’s most important assets, intangible “heartware” will influence how easily companies attract and retain executive, managerial and creative talent they need to prosper. Richmonders have gotten the message. What they will do with that insight is not yet clear.


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  1. Hydra Avatar

    “Heartware elements don’t fall within our fiscal analysis but they have fiscal consequences,”


    Yup, but heartware takes space.

    And there is another thing. protecting property rights while we confiscate the space we want to save, because it is so “valuable”.

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