The New Pioneers: How Entrepreneurs Are Defying the System to Rebuild the Cities and Towns of America
Stories have a profound impact on people. They have this inherent ability to communicate facts and reality in such a way that they leave a lasting impression. The best stories go beyond this by transforming us for the greater good. They have a way of altering preconceived ideas and strongly held beliefs in a way that other forms of communication cannot. They make us consider different viewpoints by taking us beyond our own life experiences and placing us into the lives of others. They can even create strong advocates for causes for which one otherwise had no interest. In The New Pioneers, Faber does just this by communicating stories of a movement fueled by new entrepreneurs that is taking aim at the things that restrict creativity and innovation, that is over-regulation and bureaucracy.
I want to begin this review with an acknowledgment of my own ignorance with regards to this specific topic. I am not an entrepreneur, although I regard the entrepreneurial spirit with romantic idealism. I have never had to deal with the difficulties over-regulation produces. Yet, as I read this book, I found myself engaging with others often beginning with the statement, “So I’m reading this book…” I think the reason for that is that as a pastor of a small church just outside the city I am constantly attracted to places of hope. I am inspired when I see places and hear stories that communicate hope in a bleak situation. The stories that Faber presents go beyond simply advocating for deregulation, they demonstrate passion and hope that stir the soul and make people believe they can make a difference.
Faber lays siege to the status quo and the accepted practice of “hypercoding.” He contends that this process has created a culture where it is cost-prohibitive to start a business as a young entrepreneur. The resulting culture benefits the established businesses and those who have the capital to deal with the daunting and often nonsensical regulations that exist in the building and zoning codes. He draws attention to these practices and their limiting effects by examining places where regulations have, out of necessity, been relaxed. With the relaxation of these regulations, new businesses and new creative types have transformed areas generating new wealth and bringing restoration. This process is known as “Lean Urbanism.”
Using his background as a journalist, Faber traveled to many areas where Lean Urbanism is alive and well with the intention of documenting what is happening there. In these places, where economic collapse occurred, Faber found pockets of inspiration popping up out of the woodwork. Many of these places, such as Detroit, lack the resources to enforce the regulations and zoning codes. This has allowed entrepreneurs to come in and try new things. In Detroit for instance, Faber recounts the story of Anthology Coffee which sits inside a 30,000 square foot warehouse alongside forty other small businesses. These small businesses represent a bottom-up strategy for economic growth that appears at once sustainable and innovative. The catch is that setups like this and others in the book are in opposition to certain regulations that if enforced would mean the closure of these enterprises. Fortunately, there is a reticence on the part of certain officials to strictly enforce these regulations. Faber interviews one such official who readily admits to looking the other way on occasion. They recognize the dire need for jobs and businesses and often see that there is a passion on the part of these individuals to remedy that exact problem. Faber calls these individuals, “New Pioneers.”
The New Pioneers are a category of individuals who look at places such as Detroit, New Orleans, and Phoenix and see places where they can try new things, where they can explore the boundaries, and create new opportunities. Additionally, these individuals are committed to their communities. The majority of the stories recounted in this book talk about how the New Pioneers are using recycled materials from the area rather than importing them. This has helped to maintain and celebrate the culture of these areas. They are discerning solutions for the area rather than imposing outside solutions. Many of the stories that Faber introduces demonstrate how lasting growth and economic development have come from these methods rather than from government sponsored stimuli or outside support. Examples of failed top-down solutions are plethora in this book, but perhaps none more striking than the failures in New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina devastated this historic area and inspired many people to help in the recovery process. This included New Orleans native, Brad Pitt. Out of applaudable motives, he created the Make It Right Foundation which was committed to building homes for those that had lost everything in the storm. The problem however, came in that the homes that were created not only did not fit with the area, but also failed in terms of functionality. They are seemingly the product of someone who decided on a solution without consulting those they were helping. Adding further embarrassment to this is that they raised over $45 million yet constructed just over 100 of these homes. This in contrast to the quick and efficient reconstruction of the Vietnamese community of Versailles which was rebuilt after Katrina in a matter of months due to the active involvement of the community rather than a reliance on outside assistance.
From the outset of the book, it is clear where Faber stands on regulations. In the introduction, he coins the term, “cult of hypercoding,” which he uses to refer to the vast number of regulations that are found in all areas of public life. Undoubtedly this can receive a bit of push-back since many regulations are necessary for the protection of others and in some cases deregulation has resulted in terrible consequences. It is not that regulations should not exist at all, but that they should be well thought out and serve as a way of protecting the public not hindering it, a point that Faber acknowledges at the end of the book.
Certainly, this book presents just one side of a broader conversation involving regulations and their effects. Yet, the stories conveyed in this book are of real people taking initiative in bettering the culture around them. They provide hope and inspiration that things can change and that ordinary individuals can play a part. With his skill for story-telling and compelling arguments, I believe that Faber has created a book that may serve to inspire many young entrepreneurs to follow in the footsteps of the New Pioneers. For the rest of us it serves as a way we can support them in changing the culture of our cities and towns so that creativity and innovation may flourish.
Ryan Johnson is an insatiable reader who enjoys many different genres. He also currently serves as a Campus Pastor at CrossPoint UMC in Harrisburg, PA. He keeps a blog at https://muddlingspirituality.wordpress.com/ and can be reached via linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rjohn8hf.