The 6 C’s of Gilbert’s Innovation
At the time of this article, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Schools and companies have been shuttered to slow the spread of COVID-19. But according to Larry Clark of the Harvard Business Review, “Crises” such as the one we’re in “present us with unique conditions that allow innovators to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change.” This is observed today through the quick thinking and fast pivoting industries that are thoughtfully producing 3D medical supplies and distilleries manufacturing hand sanitizers.
The people in the Town of Gilbert have long been innovators for change. The Town couldn’t have grown as rapidly as it has without innovation. From the time homesteaders arrived in the late 1800’s to present day, innovation has presented itself in the forms of connection, collaboration, and commerce hard earned by overcoming comfort, constraint, and crisis. The 6 C’s of Gilbert’s innovation have persisted for over 100 years and are bound to be foundational elements in our future.
The early settlers of Gilbert were undaunted by the need to be comfortable. Arriving with intentions to work hard and to build a life from scratch, homesteaders were unfazed by having to chart a new course in new territory. They did, however, need water for their new livelihoods and they needed to transport farm goods in and out of the area.
Benefitting from the construction of the connecting canal system, homesteaders had water to grow their crops. Bobby Gilbert, for whom the town is named, sold his property which became the Arizona Eastern Railway in 1903 and served as a connector between Phoenix and Florence. Over the course of the next decade, according to Hallock, Kolar, and Norbut “with the advent of new technology and machinery, life became a little easier for these early homesteaders and their descendants. New infrastructure came to the town, such as modern sewer systems and paved roads” (7). During World War I, the troops needed a constantly growing amount of alfalfa to feed their horses. Gilbert joined their resources, collaborating to meet the need, garnering attention as the Hay Shipping Capital of the World (“Plan for Our Future: 2020 Gilbert General Plan”).
Another feat of connection and collaboration happened when the community recognized the constraints of its size – “the Town of Gilbert began to take its current shape during the 1970’s when the Town Council approved a strip annexation that encompassed 53 square miles of county land” (“Plan for Our Future: 2020 Gilbert General Plan”). The Council imagined that Gilbert would eventually grow like its neighboring communities. In fact, “beginning in the 1980’s, Gilbert grew at a pace unparalleled by most communities in the United States” increasing in population from just under 6,000 in 1980 to over 208,000 in 2010. (“Plan for Our Future: 2020 Gilbert General Plan”). Gilbert’s emphasis on various types of partnership and collaboration has provided efficient and effective means of managing the growth of the town (Hallock et al. 8). These collaborations were resource driven solutions where one organization would share with another and create new partnership possibilities for the good of the community.
Another lens through which to see innovation is as commerce and entrepreneurialism which were alive and well in the early 1900s. Various enterprises met the needs of the community; enterprises such as grocery markets, blacksmith shops, drugstores, gas stations, and real estate companies (31). Today, the town of Gilbert has 6500 businesses meeting the various and diverse needs of a community 265,000 people strong.
What lies ahead for the Town of Gilbert are hopes of being the “City of the Future” in which “Gilbert must… maintain a level of flexibility in infrastructure, policies and funding to be nimble and adapt to the rapidly changing transportation landscape” – including but not limited to the growth of shared mobility through ride sourcing or micro mobility though bike and scooter sharing. Also important to consider, are the needs and demands for improved circulation of travel information to make informed decisions; autonomous vehicles; and e-commerce (“Plan for Our Future: 2020 Gilbert General Plan”).
What will develop as a result of the current crisis remains, somewhat, to be seen. We have social media accounts of #GilbertKindness reminding us of the extraordinary acts regular citizens have performed including surprise gifts of cash to each other, boosts of extra support for local businesses, seeking to return lost treasures, and expressions of gratitude for public service and health care workers. It is indeed a time where our strengths are tested but as this community has proven over and over, connection, collaboration and commerce prevail over that which is comfortable, constraining, or crisis driven. We are a community that innovates; our enduring pursuit of partnership is proof.
Clark, L., 2020. Innovation In A Time Of Crisis. [online] Harvard Business Publishing. Available at: <https://www.harvardbusiness.org/innovation-in-a-time-of-crisis/> [Accessed 21 April 2020].
General.gilbertaz.gov. 2020. Plan For Our Future – 2020 Gilbert General Plan – Town Council Approved. [online] Available at: <http://general.gilbertaz.gov/generalplan2020/index.html> [Accessed 21 April 2020].
Hallock, D., Kolar, K. and Norbut, A., 2015. Images Of America Gilbert. 1st ed. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, pp.7-31.