By Roger Vance
Traveling from vision to reality can be a long and arduous journey, as if on an unmarked road with impossibly steep grades, blind curves, roadblocks and dead ends. However, when vision is married with a sincere belief that everything and anything is possible and is driven by people on the ground who embrace the credo of “proceed as if success is inevitable” then sometimes what was once seen as impossible becomes possible. What was once an unrealistic dream becomes a reality.
As each of us, as organizations or individuals, welcome the new year, we may be embarking on a challenging new journey—and asking ourselves if we can harness our passion and energy to move forward.
In the early months of this new year, the last leg of one such long journey will begin to physically manifest itself as dirt starts moving and the transformation of Loudoun’s smallest town, and the reawakening of a historical treasure, unfolds. This extraordinary, multifaceted infrastructure project’s journey that began in earnest nearly 15 years ago, at long last, will be built in less than 24 months—and leave a legacy that will last for generations.
Just a year ago, however, the odds of this coming fully to fruition appeared slim. Even though a strong partnership between Hillsboro, VDOT, Loudoun County and the Commonwealth had aggregated some $10 million for the project—and with the town saving millions by taking over management—about half of the funding for the entire project remained to be secured. As we entered 2018, the more likely scenario would see a project broken into discrete separate phases, extending construction over several years, burdening the businesses, commuters, tourists and residents, and costing many millions more to complete.
At the core of how the Hillsboro saga transpired was a steadfast belief in the merits of the project and an unwavering determination that if we could clearly articulate those merits and take upon ourselves the full responsibility for proving the benefits and the common sense of our plans, we could prevail.
In Hillsboro—as in any organization—what was most critical to translating that belief into success was the active engagement of potential partners and the nurturing of a shared vision and a sense of shared trust and ownership, beginning at the most organic community level and then stretching far beyond to bring leaders and organizations at the county, state and federal levels into the fold.
What is certain is that no one will believe in you, or invest in you or your organization, if you don’t believe in yourself and your cause. And, in the end, it was the unprecedented level and quality of the thoughtful town and regional citizen grassroots support that turned the tide for Hillsboro, that opened our doors to partners, that allowed them to believe in, and invest in us. That belief came in the form of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority’s decision last June to become our pivotal partner by ensuring the project’s full funding.
While the multitude and character of the challenges Hillsboro has had to face and overcome along its journey are clearly unique to us, the qualities that have been required are not. Those qualities reside within any community and any organization that has a distinct need—and possesses a commonality of purpose, belief in a vision for a solution and is unwilling to succumb to the negative energy of “no.”
The qualities that have imbued the so-called “Hillsboro miracle” have been organic that exist in any community, that exist in all of us. A tiny historic town built for the 18th and 19th centuries and facing existential threats in the 20th and 21st centuries imposed by grinding traffic, failing infrastructure and teetering on the brink of inevitability, stood up. And what began as a sometimes lonely and frequently discouraged locally focused effort gradually evolved into what has now become a popular multi-jurisdictional collaboration with many champions, largely because it defied the conventional and embraced the creative.
Many of our towns and villages are facing similar challenges, grappling with the consequences of the county’s incredibly fast pace of change that all too often threatens Loudoun’s unique, most attractive—and irreplaceable—qualities. Be it the traffic and congestion overburdening our roads that cross our historic communities, the paving of historic rural roads, the scarring of our ridgelines and mountainsides, or unbridled residential development that devours open space and farmland—solutions exist. The question that remains in the new year, is will we defy the conventional and embrace the creative?
A hard lesson to learn, and unfortunately too often not the first, is that no one will care more than those directly impacted, period. Likewise, no one will better understand the impacts and their consequences better than those who live with them every day.
Harnessing the organic energy and the intelligence on the ground to positive, creative and thoughtful solutions—and yielding no space for cynicism—is fundamental. Opening the tent, creating a shared vision, engendering trust, nurturing partners is critical.
But, most essential, is passion, boldness, determination, a belief from the start that everything, and anything, is possible, and the perseverance and endurance to see your journey through to success.
Roger Vance is the mayor of Hillsboro. His column, A View from the Gap, is published monthly in Loudoun Now.