VISIONARIES: People who get things done

Charles Meeker-Raleigh-NC-5

VOICE OF EXPERIENCE Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who held office from 2001-2011, is credited with sparking the revitalization of downtown. He opened Fayetteville Street, pushed for the construction of the Convention Center, supported the arts, and advocated light rail. Today he works as a partner at the law firm Parker Poe. Here, Meeker agreed to offer his thoughts on what makes an effective visionary. Walter figured he ought to know.

by Charles Meeker

photograph by Mark Petko

The qualities of a visionary today differ from what one supposes. The thought of a dreamer first comes to mind.  But practical persistence defines a visionary now. Let’s go over first things first.

First, a visionary does not need a unique idea. A truly new concept is rare. Most things have been discussed at one time or another. What a visionary does need is the ability to recognize an idea or combination of ideas that can transform one’s business or community. While giving credit where due, recognizing a new approach that will work defines the visionary’s proposal.

Second, persistence is required. Not even good ideas – nor even really great ideas – get implemented right away. Months become years before the vision becomes reality.

Finally, a practical plan to move from the present to the transformation is needed. People must be able to see the path to move ahead, and it must be a path that can be traveled. The ability to identify, and moreover articulate, that path is often the biggest challenge. Getting folks to take the first step in making a change is the hardest step.

The recent signing of the Dix Park lease shows visionaries at work. Greg Poole, Nancy McFarlane, and the City Council (and many others) endured seven years of delay and seemingly endless negotiations to transform Dix Hill into a designation park. But they persisted with a practical plan – to have the City of Raleigh create the park, starting with a master plan. If the plan had been for the state or a private group to create the park, it would have never happened.

Likewise, George Chapman, Carter Worthy and Jim Massengill did not know in early 2002 that Fayetteville Street would blossom into a two-lane main street with busy sidewalks. But they soon seized on a combination of ideas, discussed at public meetings, that led to the Fayetteville Street renaissance four years later.

Raleigh’s greenway system and natural parks as well as the reworking of Hillsborough Street and the city’s sustainability initiatives show other visionaries at work. Each of these transformations came from individuals sticking with good ideas.

Our community welcomes visionaries. A key part of public service is recognizing who the next visionaries are and supporting their plans. Successful communities take advantage of opportunities often. Visionaries shine their bright light on those opportunities.