The Challenges of Historical Districts

A touch of Old Mexico, Olvera Street, Los Angeles, California
A touch of Old Mexico, Olvera Street, Los Angeles, California

For more than two years, I was appointed by L.A. Mayor Garcetti to serve on the El Pueblo Historical Monument Authority. This City Commission oversees the historical district that contains the world-famous Olvera Street, a cobbled street populated by local street vendors, family owned shops, and restaurants that truly encapsulate the spirit of the birthplace of Los Angeles. If you’ve never been, go. You’ll be doing yourself a favor and experiencing the beating heart of Los Angeles’s history.

Historical districts are a rare breed, and not just because so few exist. Their special character can only be defined as “unique,” for at their heart, no two historical districts are identical; and even the most similar ones have a variety of differences, either due to geographic location and proximity or their historical importance. Comparing any historical district to another is nearly impossible for these reasons, and marking them as identical is an oversight to all the nuanced differences that make each unique.

Preserving the character of historical districts takes a great deal of care and attention, especially if they involve commercial communities and entities as well. Publicly owned districts, such as Olvera Street, often operate with policy-making groups that set the rules for the district. And this presents a completely different set of challenges. Unlike private property, overseeing bodies have to consider not just the physical presence of vendors (plots of land) but the people that run the stores and restaurants, many of which have deep ties to that community which run far deeper than the storefront.

This is where the balancing act truly begins and leads to a larger question: How do you balance all these separate (the district, the stores, and the owner’s) interest and keep everyone happy, especially in terms of profitability?

The harsh reality of rent getting raised seemingly arbitrarily is, often the result of poor communication. There’s the key issue: poor communication. Rents are often raised due to a mandate from a separate organization to keep the rents at a “market-rate”. This mandate needs to be communicated clearly, and so do the steps in the process, the timeline in place, and crucially, the limitations of the mandate. All parties involved need to understand that a publicly owned asset, such as a historical district, has a limited amount of leeway from the laws and city ordinances that govern the process.

Transparency, as always, makes a difference. An open line of communication can be all it takes to taken a poorly run conglomeration of interests and turn it into a tightly knit community. And what’s really being preserved in these districts isn’t a collection of old buildings or artifacts, but a community that has a strong past. And the goal of the the governing entity is to keep that heart beating from the past into the future.

rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. He has worked for elected officials directly and serves dozens of others in other capacities. Follow him on Twitter andLinkedIn.


Steps Towards Legitimate Business Stature

forblog2No two industries are alike. From the international waters of large multinational corporations to the major boulevards of Los Angeles, there are clear differences between any burgeoning industry and the companies that power it. However, while industries and businesses grow at different rates, the issues they face are essentially the same. As a business expands and grows, its backyard gets bigger, and with that comes more challenges, hiccups, and opportunities.

When you look at your industry, do you see a sea of competitors clawing for the next client? Are you in a red ocean, as the old Harvard books says? One of the greatest opportunities to improve the whole industry and reduce the carnage among competitors can be found in one simple word: Stature. This isn’t the same as profile, exposure, or exclusivity. While it can be tackled individually, when a whole business community works together to improve their stature collectively — that’s where the real progress is made. Money may be the ultimate motivation, but it’s a minor benefit in the final outcome of a raising the stature of a whole industry.

Simply put: Every industry, at its heart, needs to know who they are and how they want other industries to talk about them. Coming together to implement and unify messaging tactics, in a collaborative manner, can be an invaluable and formative step in getting to the heart of the matter. This is especially true if that means utilizing a third party to convey that message: what you say about yourself isn’t nearly as powerful as what others say about you. Is your industry coherent enough to have the stature needed to have a reputation spoken by others? Part of reaching this level may mean cutting the wheat from the chaff and designating professionals in your field at a higher (and therefore others at a lower) level, a message that may alienate parts of your community. That’s OK – creating levels of distinction within your industry (such as special designations that require more than just payment to unlock) does more than make some businesses better than others, it provides an “elite” perception to all prospective clients.

Have you considered the stature of your industry as a whole? If so, maybe now is the time to organize if you haven’t already. It’s up to you to make the difference.

rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. He has worked for elected officials directly and serves dozens of others in other capacities. Follow him on Twitter andLinkedIn.


Why I Started the City Impact Lab

city_impact_lab_stratiscopeSometimes, ideas, like chemicals in a lab, come together. Whether it’s a big flourish or a small fizzle remains to be seen, but it’s all a part of the adventure.

I’ve worked in the city of Los Angeles since high school. My first jobs were public-facing in retail, and after returning from college, I started teaching high school English in Watts. Traversing the city each day from my home in the San Fernando Valley into South LA, I saw various aspects of the city in new, thought-provoking ways. So when the opportunity came to work for the city that I had been driving through since I got my driver’s permit at 15, I took it.

For the next 11 years, I worked for the City of Los Angeles as a city employee (for 4 different elected officials). Every day was different than the last and couldn’t really prepare me for the next. It was an honor to serve, regardless of the capacity.

So, when I finally left formal government service (employment), I knew that I wanted to stay engaged in the civic dialogue. I subscribed to digital newsletter updates from elected officials, advocacy groups, and nonprofits as a way to stay informed. With a flood of one-way communication in my inbox, this was a good strategy to keep me updated, but it wasn’t, perhaps, as effective in keeping me truly informed or as engaged as I wanted to be. I went to advertised meetings and meetups, but there was something missing. I still felt disconnected from my city.

During these same, last 15 years, I maintained regular communication with the high school colleague who had led our campus’ service initiatives. He and I would meet regularly to talk about ideas to help LA and its citizens. Those ideas morphed over the years from strictly nonprofit, to financially nonviable, to identifying the true need of the populace: education and strategies for engagement and, above all, the ability to connect with others doing good work for and in the City.

So, after over a decade of observation and conversation, a few job changes, and a knowledge that a growing family would soon change my ability to start new things, I launched the City Impact Lab in 2014 to achieve the things that I didn’t see any other group truly doing: bringing people together to share passion and strategy in order to advance causes that make an impact in Los Angeles. 

I had co-founded Stratiscope a year prior knowing this new company would focus on supporting those doing good work. We consciously decided against becoming a nonprofit or B-Corp. because we believed a business in the United States could be dedicated to making good things happen without sacrificing the sound business principles upon which this nation was founded. (Lofty, I know, but it’s worked so far.)

After getting settled those first few months, I returned to this idea of an entity that could bring people together to help them advance their stated “good works purpose” (what positive work they were driven by and wanted to do). We looked at coworking spaces, civic incubators, startups, and other emerging civic initiatives to bring people together to solve city issues, but what we found were others focused too heavily on technology to bring people together rather than bringing people together for the sake of connection and mutual understanding. We began with the Social Impact Breakfast program, which has now grown to a monthly series with over 50 attendees coming to hear strategies from those working day to day to improve Los Angeles. We have also developed a round table program, a reflections program, and a variety of other activities for the sole purpose of bringing together and providing support and resources for those working to improve LA in the way that they believe is best. The City Impact Lab doesn’t say, “This is what needs fixing and this is how to fix it”; but rather, we ask, “Where do you see an issue and how can we help you get to where you see the city going?”

First time attendees and others ask, “Why a lab?” They get that “city impact” is focused on making an impact in the city, but a lab? My experience with laboratories is limited, as my coursework in high school and college focused more on history and writing versus chemistry and physics. But my limited experience is summed up, thanks to an undergraduate science class where the professor mixed two chemicals in an auditorium full of 300 eager students. He knew his audience, and he knew the visualization of the mixture would captivate the attention of the poets, athletes, and undecideds. He teased us with a preview of “Now, when I add this [pointing to a beaker half-full in his hand] to this [pointing to one just barely full on the table at the front of the lecture hall] — get ready. Watch what happens.”

We were all prepped and on the edge of our seats. He poured. There was a slight fizzle. Nothing really happened. That was that. The professor uncomfortably chuckled, muttering something about this not being what was expected. “Hold on,” he said, looking around at the packages on his desk, reading labels and seemingly checking expiration dates on the chemicals. Bottom line: it’s safe to say the experiment didn’t work the way he expected. We all learned something that day, and that lesson inspires my understanding of the lab: you can try things, and it might not work as expected, but everything you do is an opportunity for improvement.

This is a big, complicated city, and not everything works every time to address its challenges. But with a large enough roomful of people at the edge of their seats, the solution is there. We just need to keep trying, together, to realize the vision we each individually hold and share for the City we all call home.

Further Reading: City Impact Lab

Never miss a thing: Sign up (right sidebar) and receive emails right to your inbox!


rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. John is committed to serve Los Angeles and support it as a laboratory for addressing issues in other cities, as well. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

SIMO: L.A.’s a City of Art (and Heart)

20151210_155817 Take pride in your city, Angelenos.

Have a look at this black & white outline of the City of LA’s borders (the Port of LA down at the bottom of the panhandle), and the sea of white representing our natural limits at the Pacific as well as neighboring municipalities on all sides.

This is a fine illustration, from Ork Posters, of just how many communities are jammed together here, but if you’re really paying attention, you’ll recognize that the real LA is even more of a geometric oddity.  Several individual CITIES, not just NEIGHBORHOODS, found their way into this piece.

IMG_57431Few of LA’s almost 4 million residents, barring an interest in history or politics, would be keen to this oversight.

The fact of the matter is, in this urban environment, the average Angeleno may find this other artistic expression, fromMaria Mannanal, a much more fitting rendition of the Los Angeles we know and love.

What’s in your office? Let us know by tagging your important artifacts and memories with #SIMO on Twitter and Facebook. 

Further reading: SIMO: Earthquake Conference

The Stratiscope offices are filled with artifacts from years of community work in Los Angeles and around the country. Sharing these posts ensures they don’t exist buried in an office but can live online forever.

Dear Impact-Makers

helping-others-post-it-noteWe recently posed the question: “Why do you serve?”

This query can take you to several levels; one of career questioning, of your passion for change, or one that begs you to delve into that innate essence of doing “good” or helping others. No matter where your drive originates or how it manifests itself today, how often are you able to objectively gauge the long-term impact of your contribution to society? If you, for example, provide a very necessary meal to a hungry family on the streets of Los Angeles, are you alleviating solely the hunger of that family for the day or also the broader issue of hunger and homelessness in a city plagued by this for decades?

Not to diminish the significance of the one meal to the family receiving it, or your selflessness for providing it, but I challenge all of us with this drive to “serve” to take the time to imagine your service’s implications over the long-term… or its possibilities with more resources. For those working in the non-profit sector (or even government, for that matter), day-to-day demands and an overall struggle for resources often preclude the luxury of taking that objective perspective of the lasting impact’s real possibilities.

The challenges facing our society — the reasons non-profits exist in the first place — reveal an opportunity to change the landscape and culture of our country for “the public good,” as defined by those with the drive to get involved. Yet, with the minutia of day-to-day operations, the mire of bureaucracies, and the lack of support (people, time, resources), it’s no wonder the change we seek takes generations.

What if those concerns were alleviated, though, and organizations built “to serve” could focus on what they do best? If the non-profits of this country became great at what they do, what would that mean for the future of all Americans? What would it even mean for the future of capitalism or, brace yourself, even socialism? When the responsibility of public welfare is removed from the shoulders of government and is placed in the capable hands of the people themselves (of course, armed with the support of the private sector) – well, isn’t that the true purpose of the non-profit sector to begin with?

Further Reading: Why I Serve

At a great precipice today, our societal construct of “non-profits” has given us the bottoms-up capability and capacity for monumental change for the greater good. The service of many has brought us to this opportunity. We can continue to spin the wheels for generations to come, serving just one meal and tackling today’s challenges only to revisit them tomorrow; or we can drive others to serve, develop an efficient third sector, and create a truly lasting change.

rounded_corners_Neal_A_avatarNeal Anderberg works with organizations, coordinating outreach efforts, strategizing partnerships, evaluating brand effectiveness, and advising on management and fundraising efficiency. He enjoys sharing knowledge and insight, but thrives on collaboration, and is passionate about helping others use their passion to make an impact. Check him out on LinkedIn.

I’ll Be There: How to Be Present in Relationships

thinking-of-you-text-image Stratiscope

With any relationship, be it decades old or recently forming, give more than you take. It’s too easy to neglect relationships until you’re the one in need.

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.”

It’s a full-time job maintaining relationships. And when you already work full-time and feel like you’re really never done working at those to-do lists, the work of relationship management gets pushed down the list even farther. The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. After all, few things feel better in this world than letting someone else know you’re thinking about them.

Staying connected is more than just liking a picture on Facebook or retweeting a quote on Twitter. It’s even more than inviting someone to your product launch or movie release. Maintaining a relationship requires a commitment to valuable interaction. It doesn’t have to be extensive or time-consuming, but it must be sincere and thoughtful.

For that long-term client or business contact you see at the annual industry conference, sending a text that says “Thinking of you” is nice; but telling them you read an article that reminded you of them means more. Sending them the link to the article is even better. And sending them the book or magazine it came from? We have a winner!

When you’re trying to build a meaningful professional relationship with someone — essentially your platonic courtship — try to share relevant information on a regular basis. Sending an email or private message to say, “Hey, I saw this and thought of you,” along with a link (and, better yet, inviting them as your guest to a relevant event), shows you’re not just thinking about them, you’re thinking about their success. You’re invested.

Further reading: Be Authentic (Even when you’re not feeling it)

Nurture relationships and give, give, give. You’ll find when you need an ally, those you meaningfully kept in the loop and supported will be there when you need them.

rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. He works hard to provide more to relationships than he gets from them, but it’s a constant work in progress. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

SIMO: Earthquake Conference

SIMO 10_15 EQ content2 stratiscopeIn the 1980s, the City of Los Angeles leveraged its role as a seismic safety leader to convene an international earthquake conference, complete with technical sessions, the “spokesbear” Yogi the Bear, and, of course, demonstrations at Universal Studios including pyrotechnics and special effects.

This 3-inch thick proceedings remind me of where the ShakeOut started: LA City Councilman Greig Smith telling his staff he wanted to reinvigorate the conversation around seismic safety, especially related to buildings. He wanted to bring back the Earthquake Conferences of the 80s in 2008, and his instructions included working with Dr. Lucy Jones. The rest is history, as the first ShakeOut in 2008 coincided with the LA’s International Earthquake Conference.

If history really repeats itself, then LA and SoCal will be safer in the next big earthquake because of these various summits, convenings, and subsequent actions taken by leaders in “earthquake country.”

What stuff is in your office? Let us know online by tagging your artifacts with #SIMO on Twitter and Facebook.

Further reading: SIMO: A River Runs Through It

The Stratiscope offices are filled with artifacts from years of community work in Los Angeles and around the country. Sharing these posts ensures they don’t exist buried in an office but can live online forever.

How to Do It All Yourself: Trust Other People

Notes and Stickies StratiscopeIt’s never easy to hand over responsibly and control, but here’s why you should consider delegating to those with real talent.

You’re a hard worker, and you have countless white board lists, scratch paper lists, and Evernote memos to prove it.

Delegation? Oh, that’s rich. After all, you didn’t put your successful business together without managing every step of the process. It’s enough that you even trust the Evernote and Google Drive to keep you processes and tasks straight.

Still, doesn’t it make sense to find an external source of support for some of those big projects and regular tasks, particularly those that might be outside of your realm of expertise or that fall to the bottom of your list even though they’re a personal priority for you.  You know you should be doing more to tell your own story, but someone’s gotta process checks and balance budgets.

As more companies “rightsize,” outsourcing teams for specific tasks is more commonplace (and desirable) than ever. Letting experts handle what they’re the best at saves you time and eliminates headaches as you struggle to do everything.

While hiring quality experts is an excellent way of getting work accomplished so you can take on other matters, there’s still some understandable apprehension, especially since you’re relinquishing some control. At the same time, your outsourced professionals will be more efficient and knowledgeable at completing needed tasks outside your purview (saving time and sanity in the process). You have to trust the expert to support you, which means finding the right expert to support you.

When you work hard and try to get things done, they get done. And when you find the right people to support your ideas and goals, it’s important to let them do their work. Results might not come together until the final two weeks or last month of the project, but the team knows what they’re doing, and they’ll get you the results you need.

While it’s hard sometimes to give up some of the control that’s made you successful to begin with, bringing on experts frees you up to tackle deliverables you feel comfortable taking on.

Who knows; maybe you have less “to-do” lists laying around and more “they-do” lists that allow you the time to finally use white-board cleaner to really give you a blank slate for innovation and success!

Further Reading: When they Just Won’t Listen

rounded_corners_John_B_AvatarJohn Bwarie is an impact professional working to connect people and solve problems while focusing on an actionable outcome. He provides expertise to others to let them do what only they can do — he’s an adjunct member of many professional teams. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

SIMO: Civic Crossroads

Civic Crossroads cover StratiscopeWe’re often at a civic crossroads, and sometimes the city plans for it.

And sometimes, the best laid plans don’t quite pan out or take many years longer than expected.LA City is still working on this one….

The Stratiscope offices are filled with artifacts from years of community work in Los Angeles and around the country. Sharing these posts ensures they don’t exist buried in an office but can live online forever.

Crossroads Content stratiscope

What stuff is in your office? Let us know online by tagging your artifacts with #SIMO on Twitter and Facebook.

SIMO: A River Runs Through It

Fish study cover

With recent, continued attention being focused on Los Angeles’ river (yes, the LA River runs nearly 50 miles through the city to the sea), it’s good to know that the current channel primarily used for flood control has research on its fish population.

Even a fish that crosses the street! (Courtesy of the Friends of the LA River in 2008.)

The Stratiscope offices are filled with artifacts from years of community work in Los Angeles and around the country. Sharing these posts makes sure they don’t exist buried in an office but can live online forever.

What’s the stuff in your office? Let us know online by tagging your artifacts with #SIMO on Twitter and Facebook.