There are rings of premium bureaucrats who live some of the life of the samurai; swords for hire, roving from town to town, doing what deed needs to be done- facilitating a General Plan, organizing a school district consolidation, executing a capitol improvement initiative- and then gathering up their expanded resumes like trophies or loot and decamping for another municipality and their next higher-paid position. They bring along a Rolodex of contacts and consultants. It’s a nepotism that thrives outside the xenophobic reach of small town politicians who can’t help but resent outsiders passing out plums plucked from their own public tree.

The planning firm brought in by the new redevelopment director- recruited by the City Manager to guide the rebuilding effort- had been founded by a courageous pioneer of environmental design, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from their presentation. They had visited the town for a barnstorming brainstorm, tendered their revelations to waiting thumbnail sketchers, and then buoyantly presented magically-markered renderings of lighthouse entry arches, dolphin street signs and wavy sidewalks. Pacific Avenue. Get it? They had chosen a nautical theme for our new downtown.

When they fired down the laser pointers and the charm, and invited questions from the audience, the hands flew up. There was only one question, and everyone was anxious to ask it. Ralph was the lucky winner. Was it possible to choose “real downtown” as the theme for our new avenue? You know, a place where people could come to buy books and shoes and food, and to see their neighbors? Was that an acceptable ‘theme’ for our very real lives, the ones we hoped to resume?”

A second firm was in attendance. ROMA had been assigned the task of actually designing the streetscape, a less glamorous task than the master planning. But by the time Boris had finished outlining options and approaches available to the town, the redevelopment director was rewriting the contracts. People stayed after to assure themselves that the road to recovery had indeed led to ROMA.