by Susan Hopkins, AICP
We're excited to announce a new initiative called Opt-In, an online panel we created to gather feedback and understand public opinion on a variety of topics impacting the future of cities, such as transportation, parks, economic development and quality-of-life.
We aim to understand public opinion and delve a little deeper on particular topics so we can understand why people feel the way they do. Participating in Opt-In is quick, easy, and confidential. We won't contact you more than four times a year and the results of each survey will be shared on Highland Planning's Facebook page and website.
by Tanya Zwahlen
Sue went up to Toronto this week to take the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Foundations in Public Participation course. It's a three day course, and she's been radioing back to our team through Slack to tell us how it's going. In summary, she is fired up. Look for a zillion blog posts from her when she returns after the holiday.
By Susan Hopkins, AICP
Shared experiences and serendipity are key elements of a healthy community—and a healthy democracy.
This morning, as I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I realized something about the work we do at Highland Planning. Community engagement is not only fun and meaningful for our clients and communities. It is essential to sustaining our democracy.
The podcast, entitled “Defending the Republic,” featured Cass R. Sunstein, a legal scholar and author of the recently published #republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Sunstein’s premise is that while free speech is important, it’s not enough to ensure a healthy democracy. Serendipity and shared experiences are also key elements.
What is Serendipity?
In simple terms, serendipity is something that happens by chance in a beneficial way. These are experiences that promote chance encounters and democratic deliberation. The way most of us digest news and social media today means that we have fewer and fewer opportunities to experience serendipity: things like “public forums of old,” traditional TV news, and generalist newspapers. This applies to public spaces, too. Parks, buses, plazas, and trails are all serendipitous places that foster shared experience and diverse encounters. It also applies to public meetings, open houses, design workshops, and focus groups.
Shared face-to-face experiences and unchosen serendipitous experiences, even when we don’t like them, can lead to encounters with diverse ideas. They allow us to hear opposing viewpoints and unfiltered perspectives. In other words, we’re increasing the odds that we become engaged in something that challenges our convictions, and that we will be able to understand, and learn from, people we might otherwise disagree with, distrust, or even demonize.
What Does this Mean in Practice?
Many of us have seen the viral YouTube videos featuring angry crowds at “town hall” meetings around the country. Admittedly, that is not the type of shared experience many of us want to have. What is missing from those meetings is a carefully orchestrated meeting design that elevates the conversation and gives everyone a chance to be heard.
In fact, the design of a meeting—from activities to the type of venue—is one of the most important ways to create a valuable shared experience that encourages people to see other points of view and consider other perspectives. Two techniques we use to facilitate dialogue in larger groups and/or in situations where there may be diverging values and opinions are Cardstorming and World Café.
These are just two of many techniques we use to create serendipity and foster productive discussion.
So, the next time you attend a public meeting, talk to a candidate campaigning door-to-door, or have a serendipitous encounter at a park or on the bus, consider that you aren’t just participating in your community, you are helping to preserve and strengthen our democracy.
by Susan Hopkins
As New Yorkers, we cherish our summers. As planners, we know that summer can be a challenging time to engage communities in planning initiatives. We’re competing with summer vacations, festivals, backyard cookouts, and sunny weather. No one wants to sit indoors on a beautiful summer evening. How can we take advantage of summer weather to engage community members in our planning initiatives?
Here are some examples of engagement techniques that take advantage of warm weather and long days!
Host a paddle meeting. Invite participants to experience a waterfront site or trail from a new perspective (i.e. from the water itself). Give community members the chance to experience the water, learn about waterfront access, redevelopment, and think in new ways about future opportunities. Kayaks, stand-up paddle boards (SUPs), and canoes can offer a low impact and accessible way for people of all paddling abilities to participate.
Lead a bike tour. Help community members experience a trail, connection, or street by bike—for the first time or in a brand new way.
Host a Bike Trolley Pedal Tour. Fifteen people on a giant bike. Need I say more?
Use alternative forms of transportation to engage elderly or disabled community members. Consider including golf carts along with the above techniques to allow less mobile members of the community to participate.
By Mary Rowlands
It’s been 16 months since I joined Highland Planning and the spectrum of projects that I have had the pleasure to work on has enlightened me. I have a 30+ year career in traffic and transportation operations and planning, and my experiences facilitating public outreach activities on a multitude of project types has taught me a lot.
First and foremost, the knowledge that Tanya has shared with our team regarding the techniques and tools for effective public engagement has allowed me to incorporate unique, fun and successful methods with all of my projects. The days of holding a public meeting and hoping someone shows up are gone. We design our engagement processes in response to our stakeholders preferences for locations, times, format, and even the topics for discussion at meetings. The way to tailor public engagement is talk to stakeholders *before* designing a strategy.
As a rule, we ask the public questions about:
I had previous experience working on comprehensive plans, Brownfield Opportunity Area studies, transit and traffic operations studies, and Complete Streets projects. Today, I am applying engagement techniques to a variety of projects. For instance, I am working on two Law Enforcement Shared Services studies with the Center for Government Research (CGR). Although I know nothing about consolidating police agencies, our methodology has helped me solicit the input needed for CGR to complete their analysis. It has been very rewarding, and I have seen firsthand that project outcomes are better when you include the public.
by M. André Primus
One of the more exciting projects we have had the opportunity to work on lately is the Greentopia EcoDistrict. Last month, we held our first public meeting, and it was a great time! The public meeting was held at ER Studio and Lounge, a dance studio and event space on State Street in the EcoDistrict. This unique space really helped show off what the area already has to offer.
The purpose of this first meeting was to get initial input and ideas, so we started off with a presentation from Rachel Walsh, the EcoDistrict Coordinator, before splitting into groups to generate ideas.
Why an EcoDistrict?
Rachel’s presentation began with a description of some of the issues in cities today. Sixty percent of North America’s population lives in cities, a proportion that is expected to reach three-quarters by 2050. Cities account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of energy consumption. Our cities also contribute to a vast equity gap: the zip code a child is born into has a bigger role in determining that child’s future than any other single factor. Cities in the US also face a $1 trillion+ infrastructure backlog, comprising everything from ruptured water mains to decaying public buildings, bridges, roads and transit. On top of all this is the growing threat of climate change.
The EcoDistricts Protocol is a response to those issues. The EcoDistricts Protocol is a process-based framework and certification standard that empowers equitable, resilient, sustainable neighborhoods and districts for all. It is designed to support diverse project teams represented by public, private, and non-profit groups. One distinctive of the EcoDistricts Protocol is equity, which isn’t consistently addressed in other district-scale projects, often distorting the benefits and intensifying the negative impacts of investments.
Rachel presented information about two other EcoDistricts. She explained the projects, priorities, and roadmaps of the Sun Valley EcoDistrict and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict.
Public Input Sessions
The group then split and went to the three stations. At the first station, attendees were invited to ask questions and learn more. Rachel answered questions and explained the details of the Protocol and the High Falls EcoDistrict. At the second station, ideas for the new EcoDistrict were collected and discussed. André documented the ideas, which ranged from using water power to power streetlights, to bungee jumping from the Pont de Renne. At the third station, attendees shared their vision for the EcoDistrict by finishing the sentence “My vision for the EcoDistrict is…” on a blackboard. Jen took “Vision Portraits” of each peron with their board.
by M. Andre Primus
One of our latest projects at Highland Planning is the comprehensive plan update for the City of Rochester, also known as “Roc 4.0.” The city is split into five planning areas: northeast, the southeast, northwest, southwest, and center city. Each planning area has a designated Planning Area Committee (PAC), made up of residents and business owners in the area, to provide guidance to the project. Highland Planning is leading the engagement efforts in the northwest and southeast areas. We have met with the Planning Area Committees (PAC) for both areas, and received a lot of great information about what it is that people love about their neighborhoods, and what they want to improve.
I thought I’d tell you a little bit about how our southeast meeting went!
Our first meeting was held at the Southeast Neighborhood Service Center, which is at the Village Gate. Nancy Johns-Price, our wonderful and talented City of Rochester Southeast Administrator, organized a team building exercise for the PAC in the form of a scavenger hunt. The PAC was split into teams of two and given a list of clues. The clues brought the SEPAC all around the Village Gate.
Some of the questions led us to view public art (i.e. take a picture with your favorite piece of art!), and some encouraged us to participate in it (i.e. take a picture with your entry on the “before I die” board!). Several questions sent us to the Village Gate’s businesses (i.e. find the business selling a tiger backpack!). After the teams returned, prizes were awarded for the teams who completed the challenge the fastest. The winning team got canvas bags from the Renaissance Plan, the City's 1999 comprehensive plan.
After the scavenger hunt, we began what could be called the “real meeting.” Though at Highland Planning, we don’t see it that way. The scavenger hunt was a delightful and valuable part of what made the subsequent discussion so civil and productive. The PAC became a team, and that showed.
Our team provided an overview of the project and the group discussed the southeast planning area’s assets and reviewed data relating to the area. There was a lot of great feedback and as a group we created an asset map of the area.
Next month, we will have our next meeting, and I’m excited. Our last meeting was a great example of how valuing individuals, forming relationships, and being creative leads to a civil and productive process, and it felt great to be a part of.
by Tanya Zwahlen
Here are a few of my favorite photos from last night's first public meeting for the Brighton Comprehensive Plan update.