Citizen participation is enough of a challenge in any city — but how do you deal with engaging citizens when 42% of your population is foreign-born, with people speaking many different languages?
Della Rucker, AICP, CEcD, is the Principal of Wise Economy Workshop, a consulting firm that assists local governments and nonprofit organizations with the information and processes for making wise planning and economic development decisions.
Rucker’s columns for the Planning Commissioners Journal in 2011 and 2012 focused on planning and economic development.
Her series of columns for the PlannersWeb will look at creative ways of actively involving citizens in the local planning process.
As your commission, your department, or your local government start using social media tools more and more, it’s essential to look at these with a clear, un-awed eye … and realize that the tools we need to do our work well require much more than just a Facebook page.
PlannersWeb columnist Della Rucker’s first video cast is a conversation with Chris Haller of Urban Interactive Studio about the new world of planning project web site development — and a look at his firm’s “Engaging Plans” web site tool.
Our national public discourse hasn’t been very good at real discussion lately. Even on TV news shows that claim to be “discussing” issues, what you too often hear is people talking over and shouting past each other. But planning commissions can set a positive example in public hearings and meetings.
We claim in local government to want to have the community involved — we call it “public engagement” or “public feedback” or “stakeholder involvement” — but the fact is, most of the time we’re paying lip service to the idea, at best if we want to find solutions to the complex, tangled issues we face — we need dialogue, we need collaborators.
Collaboration should be the ultimate goal of our planning efforts. If we design our public engagement strategies to build Collaboration, we can do more than what our planning commissions can do alone. We can strengthen the full set of muscles we need to make the entire community better.
When we give a presentation, post documents to a web page, or announce the preferred plan, we are Telling. It’s one-way communication from us to the public. When we ask members of the public questions, and then simply write down their answers, we are Asking. It’s one-way as well, but from them to us. Here’s the problem: while both Telling and Asking are needed, they are nowhere near enough.
If we want to find solutions to the complex, tangled issues we face — whether it’s the impact of a new development or revisions to a sign code — we need dialogue. We need collaborators. And that means engaging in dialogue, instead of lecturing.
Instead of doing “public participation” that actually makes our plans and projects better, we have an unfortunate history of relegating people to a couple of predetermined alternatives. A look at better ways of public engagement.
Eight of our regular contributing writers take a brief look at various challenges and opportunities facing planning commissions and their communities.
As planners and planning commissioners we need to think ahead, anticipate consequences, and identify our blind spots so we aren’t sideswiped by a future we didn’t see coming.
There’s no getting around the fact that planning for even a small community is far more complex than planning for even the most elaborate wedding.
PCJ Editor Wayne Senville asks Della Rucker follow-up questions about her Summer 2011 PCJ article.