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At your next planning board meeting, look around at your members. How much do you reflect the different populations in your community? Or are you, primarily or entirely, representative of only one or two segments?
Not too long ago, most citizen planning commissions were composed of white males drawn from the upper economic levels of the community. There are many more women now, and a sprinkling of minorities, but still, most commission members reflect the views of the "establishment" in their communities and can well afford to donate their time. To give them credit, planning board members are willing volunteers for positions that are not only time consuming, but also emotionally and physically draining.
The fact that many people simply do not wish to or cannot afford to leave work or other endeavors to be citizen members of planning boards probably will not change much in the near future. But that does not excuse them from trying hard to represent all the people in their community. In increasingly diverse communities, it is essential that all planning board members reach out beyond their ordinary circles of relationships. There are many ways you can do this. ...
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Elaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.