Why Do Good Things Take So Long While Bad Things Happen Overnight?

Years ago, I realized that good things always seem to take a long time to happen, while bad things can happen instantly. Buildings that take years to plan, finance, and construct can burn down in a few hours or crumble during an earthquake. I think the principle holds true in both our personal and professional lives.

Shortly after I arrived in Albany, I remember being approached by a mother who wanted her children to walk to school but was concerned about the lack of sidewalks on Gibson Hill Road. She was positive, energetic, and willing to invest her time to help make the project happen. The mom even organized other parents to bring their children to a council meeting to illustrate their support for the sidewalks. The Council was sympathetic and directed staff to look for funding to build the sidewalk; and, eventually, we secured a grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation for that purpose. I recently drove over to North Albany to check on the progress of the project, and I’m happy to say it is progressing nicely. My only regret is that the mother who can claim credit for starting this project moved to Corvallis several years ago.

Perhaps it should be quicker and easier to build needed projects in the community, but there are good reasons why they often take awhile to complete. I’m reasonably confident that most property owners in the Gibson Hill area had no desire to be assessed more than $1 million to build sidewalks. Albany has many more street improvement needs than we do resources to meet them, so it usually takes time to either accumulate or find dollars to do major projects. I think the Gibson Hill sidewalk project will have taken about nine years, start to finish. Compared to the time Albany has spent in securing the resources for a new downtown fire station after it recognized that one was needed about 20+ years ago, the Gibson Hill project happened very quickly.

Earlier this week, I read about a city manager colleague who was attending a city council meeting when one of the councilors made a motion to terminate his contract. The motion was seconded and approved by a council majority, and the manager was out of a job. He apparently received no notice and was asked to hand over his keys and remove his personal possessions from City Hall that night. Losing a job can happen to anyone, but I’m sure most of us would like to think we would receive a little notice. This city manager spent many years going to school, building a reputation, and accumulating experience only to have it wiped out in a single meeting.

I would like to think that the best reason why good things take so long is that they are well planned and thoroughly considered before they are carried out. Costs and benefits are weighed, priorities are determined, alternatives offered, and consensus achieved before settling on a given course. Processes are not always this thorough, and that may help explain why so many bad things happen quickly.