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The Effective Planning Commissioner

Getting Out to Where the People Are

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We're Having a Public Event at the Shopping Mall. Won’t you Drop by and Tell us What you Think about the Future of our Town?

It was a sunny Friday. People were at their local mall as usual, shopping, strolling, meeting their friends and neighbors. Prominent among the storefronts, in the center of all the activity, was something new: a display about Our Town -– what it is and what it might become, depending on the planning decisions that soon would be made.

Maps and drawings and possible alternatives in simple text were displayed attractively. Staff and commissioners stood nearby to engage onlookers in conversation and entice them to participate. People were invited to stay as long as they liked -– to write their comments on the displays and handy pads of paper, talk to planners, fill out questionnaires, and otherwise participate in a low-key but important exercise to help determine their community’s future.

Planning commission display table at the mall. Illustration by Marc Hughes for PlannersWeb
Illustration by Marc Hughes for PlannersWeb

Compliments abounded. "No one ever asked my opinion before!" "Thanks for coming out to the mall. I never have time for meetings." "It's great that you’ll be here after work. I’ll be back with my husband." Seniors dropped by and wrote down their opinions, all the while reminiscing about days gone by. Teen rappers and mall employees were quick to point out what they liked and did not favor about the suggested alternatives. A diverse variety of people was obviously comfortable and familiar in the mall environment and willing to participate when asked. ...

End of excerpt

photo of Elaine CoganElaine 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.

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