In the past when we asked residents of Eugene, Oregon to get involved in a land use process that could affect them, calling it growth management, we didn’t receive much interest from the average person. Most folks couldn’t see how it would affect them in their daily lives. With Envision Eugene, we reframed our approach, explaining that the conversation we wanted to begin focused on the quality of life in their community, about where they live, work and play; about protecting what they love about Eugene as it grows and changes, and pursuing the most sustainable, beautiful and prosperous city imaginable.
Responses suddenly came pouring in - neighbors seemed excited to be invited to have a different type of conversation and to share with city planners their vision for Eugene. Citizens began to embrace the opportunity to tell us about what makes their community special - everything from how beautiful the trees are, to how welcoming and engaging their neighbors are to how much they value being able to walk to local markets. As residents got more comfortable with the open dialogue happening within the community, we began to collect valuable input about the changes that they wanted to see take place, like adding more parks, strengthening neighborhood schools, and pursuing family wage job opportunities, just to name a few.
Just as we suspected, Eugeneans care immensely about the future of their community and are eager to get involved in planning projects that affect them. With Envision Eugene city planners attempted a whole new public involvement approach based on the radical notion that everyone in the community has a stake in the outcome, and should have a voice in the process. That meant we had to make long-range planning accessible in everyday terms and through new media channels.
Early community events helped flesh out the things Eugeneans value – like access to parks and open space, safe streets and bike paths, leafy neighborhoods, and our thriving local businesses. We love being a University town and all of the cultural, athletic, and academic opportunities that the University of Oregon affords us.
Our city and our state are becoming increasingly diverse – over half the people in Oregon were not here when the celebrated land use planning program was launched in the 1970’s. So, we began to ask ourselves, “How do we reach Eugene’s young people and their parents, as well as community leaders who have historically locked horns over land use issues?”
To reach kids and their parents, we used art.
Parents of young children have been historically hard to reach through typical means such as evening meetings, so class projects were devised as a way to creatively involve these families through their children’s schoolwork. City staff worked with a community artist to design a project on Envision Eugene. The students were asked about what kinds of places are in a neighborhood, what places they like to go to, and what they would like their neighborhood to look like in the future.
Students worked on the project over the course of a few classes, giving them the opportunity (and assignment) to take the topic home and talk to their parents about it. Both local school districts participated enthusiastically in the project. Student work was honored at an art show in June 2010 that coincided with Eugene’s First Friday ArtWalk. The art pieces were on display throughout the summer and were then assembled into handmade books for display at public meetings and events throughout the fall. In the spring of 2011 the books were taken to branch libraries, further spreading word about Envision Eugene to people throughout the community.
To reach college students and young professionals, we used social media.
From project videos to our Facebook page to our comprehensive website, we are out in the digital world, telling stories, talking to people and creating opportunities for electronic involvement. This approach has magnified the number of people we are reaching throughout the community - and the country. We get phone calls and inquiries from planners and consultants all over the US, saying they have seen the videos.
To reach community leaders, we made them listen to each other.
Okay, we created the opportunity for them to listen to each other, by convening the Community Resource Group (CRG). Participants included community leaders, representatives of city boards and commissions, neighborhood groups, environmental and land use advocacy groups, businesses, partner agencies, school districts, past City Councilors and the immediate past Mayor. With a personal invitation from the City Manager, people who had long ago written off public involvement in the planning process came to participate, and they stayed. The group grew to over 60 active members, meeting on average once a month for a full day.
One of the main methods we used with the CRG was to help people realize and articulate their fears, or worst possible outcomes, of planning for growth. Knowing what the worst possible outcomes are allows people to work through them, so they are able to move on to articulate their best possible outcomes, and then work together toward achieving those outcomes. The CRG spent a lot of time writing down their individual worst and best possible outcomes related to all aspects of Envision Eugene, from providing affordable housing, to assuring economic opportunities, to protecting and enhancing neighborhood livability.
All of these methods were first run trials – and they are paying off in spades. Envision Eugene was recently awarded the STAR Award for Citizen Involvement in land use by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission’s Citizen Involvement Advisory Committee.
Notes: [photo of girl in pumpkin patch taken by Deb Jencks, Stockvault]