Pilot Programs Re-Defined
Pilot programs are defined as a small-scale experiment or set of observations undertaken to decide how and whether to launch a full-scale project.
Few people ever get a product right the first time, hence the need to have pilot programs to test ideas and work out the kinks. This idea applies in redevelopment of cities as well. For many communities it’s important to have a “Pilot” approach to redevelopment. Pilot programs are necessary to jump start the effort to attract people back to our downtowns by building cool spaces and giving those pioneers an incentive to move back. Therefore I feel compelled to write this piece on better defining what the criteria of what a pilot program is and what it is not and what can be expected of them.
- It’s a first step –There are millions of grand visions. Most die in the idea stage because the most difficult part of any movement is the first step. Therefore making the first step the one with the least hang-ups and most flexibility is critical.
- It requires flexibility – I mention flexibility because usually the first mover is the trailblazer and the one who is working without a roadmap. Flexibility is needed because stops, starts, backups and sidesteps will be necessary to finally get to the desired destination or at least on an identifiable path.
- Are not final products – Pilot projects are never deemed as the final product or without glitches, instead they are seen as a search for a process to doing things better. Therefore the idea for the pilot program should be to solve the underlying issue and refine the product later.
- Expect a culture catalyst – One of the byproducts of pilots is the progressive environment they create. The experimentation mindset as it relates to solving problems opens up when given the opportunity and flexibility to find solutions. Pilot programs show a willingness to work to find a better product and a partnership in that endeavor. While the pilot program is the trailblazer to an idea, those that created the program give the trailblazer the feeling that someone at least has their back.
One great example of a pilot program was the moveable green chairs in Bryant Park. Years ago, William Whyte, when challenged with breathing life back into Bryant Park decided to test the idea of placing thousands to moveable green chairs randomly throughout the park. These chairs gave park goers a chance to create personal space and relax. The pilot program experiment worked and today these chairs have become a national icon to public space revival.
In redevelopment, like in life, you can’t fail until you stop trying. The cities ready for redevelopment are ones that are willing to learn quicker what works and what doesn’t work. Pilot programs are a tool for creating sparks and taking a first step to an end goal or vision. If you find you are surrounded by ideas but action can’t be found, try a pilot program. I know it will at least move you one step closer.
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