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Several times I have written in this column about the importance of having diverse interests represented on the planning board. Too many communities, for too long, have accepted the white male as the epitome of people asked to serve. In truth, in many instances, they have been the bulwark of the community, leading chambers of commerce and business and commercial interests. Yet, many other people have not even been considered.
It is a credit to many in the waning years of the last century and into this one, that as the appointing city councils and others have become more diverse, so have their candidates for boards and commissions. Now that this trend appears to be well established in many communities, it appears worthwhile to ask, to what avail? Can we go overboard in insisting that people represent "slots" or characteristics? In some instances can this be counter-productive?
Consider the label, environmentalist. It connotes so many different emotions and attitudes. Lumber company owners who follow careful and selective tree-cutting practices often consider themselves such, as would those who lash themselves to those trees to keep any from being cut down. In every community, there are streams, wetlands, and other features that dot the environment. People belong to environmental protection groups while some advocate passionately for a particular situation. If you have one place on the planning commission reserved for an environmentalist, who would be your choice?
The label developer also can be less than clear. Is it preferable to choose the "small" developer who builds single or modest homes here and there in the community or the "large" developer who has changed the skyline of your town? Should the developer also be a land owner or are these separate and distinct interests? Should both be represented on the board? ...
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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.