series of articles by Jim Segedy & Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy
Lisa was on the city council agenda that night to present the concept of a new comprehensive plan. The mayor leaned forward after her presentation. “We had a plan written for us ten years ago. It hasn’t done us a darn bit of good.”
She had to agree with the mayor. The consulting firm that had written the plan had included all the relevant data, pages and pages of census data in tables, statistics in bar graphs, and percentages in pie charts. It was a complete inventory, and looked very impressive, but it really didn’t say anything.
What did all those charts and tables mean?
They had overlooked two important things: First, the plan contained no interpretation of the data. Second, the public had no meaningful involvement in the plan’s creation. The plan simply did not address the very first question in the list of ingredients of a good comprehensive plan. Because of that, its usefulness as a tool to the community was extremely limited.
“Who are we?” It is important to ask and answer that question on several levels throughout the planning process. Part of the planning process is to understand the people in your community. This will help you determine how your community functions and how it should (and shouldn’t) change over the next twenty years.
It’s also important to remember that this isn’t just a bunch of background information — it should be an objective look at who you are and what’s going on. It’s about where you live, work, play, and do business — and the forces that affect your city or town.
One of the first tools for understanding “Who are we?” is demographic data. Census information breaks down your population by age, gender, ethnic background, home ownership, economic status, and more. You can see how your population has changed over time, but it’s only a snapshot of the community.
But “Who are we?” is more than just these statistics and facts compiled into tables and charts. In planning class, Jim tells his students, “You’ve told me the numbers. Now tell me what they mean.”
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