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Can planning be fun and still get the job done?
Being a planning commissioner is a serious job, with serious responsibilities. However, if you sometimes take the opportunity to engage your community in stimulating and enjoyable ways, you can find a receptive audience and reap positive results. Here are two ideas I personally have used with success.
Workshop. This is generally a meeting held informally with citizens at which recommendations, but no formal action, is taken. The subject should be one you are currently dealing with, though not specific to any individual or organization. For example, invite the public to a workshop on open space or environmental protection when you are reviewing the applicable code and ask them what areas are most special to preserve. Seat participants around tables in groups of eight or ten, and give them easy-to-read maps of the community and colored pencils or icons with which they can record their ideas.
In one series of lively sessions, citizens were given stick-on trees, bushes, ponds and lakes, and other natural features and asked to place them where they thought they would most enhance the community. Each table was asked to come to consensus before presenting their ideas to the larger group. There was much discussion before the recommendations … some very creative and innovative … were revealed. Participants were satisfied when the planning board agreed to consider their ideas when the code was revised.
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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.