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Dave Beal: Zumbro Transit Company is no 'hoax'

Dave Beal: Zumbro Transit Company is no 'hoax'

For a few hours last week, there was a specter haunting Rochester. A shadowy group announcing grand plans for the city. Unlike previous shadowy groups, like the “unnamed investors” of the Big New Hockey Arena Proposal a few months ago, this new bunch did not have another organization, like say the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, to front for them. All they had was a website builder, a Facebook account, and good old American moxy.

Interestingly, even though when it came down to it the group proposing the Big New Hockey Arena had little more to offer than expensive consultants with a slide deck, a few dogs, and a pony, it’s Zumbro Transit Company that is now being derided by city officials as a “hoax”.


Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that the Big New Hockey Arena should be called a “hoax”. When you are also asking for $65 million, “hoax” is not the first word that comes to mind. All I am saying is that a few expensive consultants, pretty pictures, and some locals to carry your water doesn’t necessarily make what you have to say more serious or assure anything will in the end get done.

Heck, if that’s all it took we’d be a you-know-what already, replete with glittering five-star hotels chock full of the wealthy healthy. And some bike racks.

That's not how we don't get things done around here

Well, we’re not you-know-what yet. Nor would anyone in their right mind expect us to be. Still, despite an act of the state legislature, a half billion in pixie dollars, a permanent collection of consultants, an urban swatch book of Rochesterland, and mounting millions in city tax dollars, the folks over at you-know-what can promise only another year of study by that permanent collection of consultants to produce yet another urban swatch book of gauzy nighttime streetscapes populated by demographically desirable photoshopped people who couldn't be happier to be there.

Only this time they really mean it because they’ll be adding a consultant to help them establish metrics so they can measure all the stuff they’ll be getting ready to start thinking seriously about doing in a year a so. Hey, we're told, it's a Big Idea and Big Ideas don't happen overnight or even over a few years worth of nights.

This Big Idea is, of course, not a hoax. Who could possibly think so?  The Big Idea and its Grand Plan for all it's pages and press and pomp did not arrive fully formed and came without much of what is suddenly demanded of a considerably more modest proposal. With the Big Idea, it's all where do we sign! With Zumbro Transit Company it's: Where's the business plan? How you gonna pay for this? Clearly you don't understand how we do things around here, who the hell do you think you are?


Ask not for whom the bell tolls

I think the reaction Zumbro Transit Company is receiving in some quarters misconstrues what they are about. Some deride Zumbro Transit Company as a "hoax". Some think this derision not far off the mark. They all might do well to review recent events and what they let pass for Serious Proposals. They might consider why they have been willing to do so. They might give some thought to Kenneth Burke saying of "trained incapacity":

If chickens, by their scheme of orientation, respond to the ringing bell as a food-sign, and if the experimenter has this time changed the rules, so that the bell is in reality a precursor of punishment, we need not introduce the notion of escape mechanism to explain their "illogical" conduct as they come running in answer to the bell. We need not say that they have refused to face reality. We need only note - as seems experimentally verifiable - that their past training has caused them to misjudge their present situation. Their training has become an incapacity.

I'll leave to the reader to discern who here is hearing what in the bells.

For my taste the roll out of the Zumbro Transit Company last week was a little too coy with some needless demurring by many of the then “unnamed” who are now known to be involved. That’s style. The substance of what they are about seems to me to be one more ringing bell signaling that something new is happening in Rochester.

Those who say they are ready to listen need to be ready to listen differently. For one thing, the Zumbro Transit Company Statement of Purpose is not a statement of purpose. It is a manifesto.

Dave Beal is the resident blogger at Kutzky Market. This post first appeared on his blog, A Life and the Times.


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