Improving Our Infrastructure – You Can Help!

We know there is a lot of interest in improving our infrastructure and how we as a community plan for the future.  Readers and dialogue participants alike have shared thoughts for how we might improve.  Consider the following comments posted by a reader to articles on the current transmission line controversy.

Something that might have helped prevented the emergence (or resurgence) or organized opposition to Option A was for the city to continue to have ongoing public forums and meetings that would have provided citizens opportunities to hear updates or to voice concerns. Too often what happens is the city is all about having public meetings and getting citizen input when projects are proposed (as they are legally required to do) but then once that process is overwith and projects are approved, all communication ceases. And then one morning, a resident wakes up to find that the city is about to plant a giant electric pole in his yard or clearcut all his trees. Nobody, but nobody likes these kinds of surprises. (Posted by “Ruckus” Jan. 31, 2016)

A different approach is needed then just holding interested party meetings or Ward Checkins. Perhaps take a cue from the Sewer Dept in which affected individuals along the routes are kept updated by periodic mailings with detailed information of project plans and progress, and provide the name of an actual contact person within W and L who is actually involved in the project who is a contact point for residents who have concerns or questions. This approach has seemed to work well for the Sewer Utility on the Private Common Collector Elimination projects. The engineer responsible for any given project is the contact point for residents/neighborhood associations. (Posted by “Ruckus” Feb. 1, 2016)

Do you have ideas of your own to share about how we might improve the way our community approaches its infrastructure issues? Join us September 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the offices of the Tribune (101 N. 4th St., enter on Walnut Street) for another citizen-led dialogue.

Share what’s on your mind and listen to others.

Real people, real dialogue.  Join in a conversation that matters.

We hope to see you tomorrow, September 20 at 7 pm.

The Transmission Line: Many Questions

Since the online forum on August 23rd, tax abatements have been approved for an upgrade of the Dana Light Axle Products facility, and the mayor has announced a new medical tourism initiative. Yet the issue of how we are going to meet the electric service needs of new industry or our energy intensive medical facilities remains stalled.

Our August 23 forum focused on “citizen-centered planning,” using as a case study the City Council’s decision to “pause” construction on the new transmission line while researching potential alternatives to the previously approved route (“Option A”). Citizens joining the August 23 forum raised questions about the costs of delay, the costs of potential alternatives, the costs incurred to date, the timeline for decision, and whether and how the public will be engaged in any future discussion of what is to be done.

As citizens in our past forums have observed, “People want to be informed.”  The council’s lack of discussion on a timeline, on the consequences of delay, or on the criteria for future decisions on this key issue, is not providing citizens with information they want and need.

Citizens at past forums made the following observations about how the city council approaches the issues of growth:

  • “they avoid the hard issues until those must be addressed;”
  • “They spend most of their time cleaning up messes rather than presenting clearly defined programs aimed at achieving goals;”
  • “They are always working in hindsight mode.”

We can’t meet our energy needs by talking about what “might work” or by simply hoping the whole uncomfortable issue goes away. If we are going to announce new initiatives intended to promote our economy, we should be discussing at the same time how the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to support both current and future needs. This applies not only to electric infrastructure but to sewers, water, and roads as well.

As Hank Waters said in a recent editorial:

After all these months of delay, the city council needs to get off the dime. It will never be rid of conflicting opinion on this issue. If the council has enough reason to abandon Option A, it should have the final stages of a lucid discussion and make another decision, but it will have to overcome the obvious arguments in favor of proceeding as planned.

In future posts we will further explore the issues of costs and process raised on August 23.

Join Us August 23

This Tuesday, August 23rd from 5 to 6 p.m. we will host our next on-line Trib Talks forum using the Cover It Live platform. We will focus on “citizen centered planning” using the current transmission line controversy as a case study.

You can review last Sunday’s article by Caitlin Campbell  for an up to date summary of the transmission line issue, and review past coverage or the  information page on the city website for even more information.

To participate in the forum, simply visit www.columbiatribune.com at 5 p.m. (or shortly before) Tuesday, click on the link and join in.

Can’t join us? Review the transcript on our archive page after the forum, or host your own dialogue and report back in!

Are We An Us? Part 3

Our forum participants asked the question “are we an us?” long before the violence of the last two weeks left leaders nationwide calling for dialogue. Efforts by local leaders to create more dialogue included a news conference where the issue of racial profiling was discussed, and an open mic event sponsored by MU’s Black Studies department.

To make a difference, dialogue needs to be sustained. It’s up to each of us to reach out, to listen, to share our own thoughts, to listen again, and to stay engaged.

Wondering where you might start? You can start by downloading the community dialogue guide “Are We An Us?“, or one of the related mini-guides, “Addressing Inequities“, “Citizen Centered Planning“, or “Building Bridges“.  We also have a checklist which will help you plan dialogues within your neighborhood or organization and report back in on thoughts shared.

The Tribune publication “Sharp End”, published in 2015, can also serve as a starting point for discussions about race in Columbia, as can the documentary “Battle: Change From Within“.  The “Charleston Syllabus,” which was created in response to the June 2015 murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina provides many additional resources.

Do you have additional resources to share?  Add your suggestions in the comment section below.

Interested in Development? Town Hall Tomorrow!

Yesterday the City sent out a press release announcing there would be a town hall meeting on “the development code update project” tomorrow, Saturday morning, April 30 from 8 am to noon, at City Hall, 701 East Broadway, Conference rooms 1A-C.

Topics will include:

  • Proposed new parking requirements,
  • Development, redevelopment and sufficiency of services and
  • Form-based controls downtown.

The announced purpose for this event is to “assist interested persons with understanding the draft development code in preparation for the public hearing process which begins in May”.  While we commend the City for hosting this event we would also like your thoughts on how the process for informing and inviting the public on these key issues might be improved.

 

 

Join Us Thursday Feb 11 at 7 pm

Join us tomorrow evening for the Trib Talks forum “Are We An Us?’  The world-cafe style forum will be held at the ARC, 1701W. Ash St., at 7 pm. We will dig deeper into themes that emerged during our last session and our on-line forums.

These were citizen centered planning, addressing inequities, and building bridges.

What is citizen-centered planning?  One thing it involves is leadership that accurately informs citizens.  During our last forum citizens expressed a desire for the Trib to make it easier for them to track coverage on complex issues, like the current transmission line controversy.  The Trib has responded with a new archive on infrastructure issues.  Come and share additional thoughts on how our planning for growth might be improved.

There are many groups in Columbia working to address needs for food and shelter.  Affordable housing, and outreach through efforts like Project Homeless Connect have been in the news. Bring your ideas on what more might be done.

And over the last month uniting the diverse elements of our community has been a theme of many events – from the the city-sponsored diversity breakfast, to a unity concert, to a multicultural cooking class sponsored by the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. Come and share your thoughts on how we might bridge our gaps.

Join us at the ARC and here on-line!

 

 

Citizen-Centered Planning

What is citizen-centered planning?  Our forums identified at least three factors:

  • Adequate notice and opportunities to be heard.
  • Opportunities for meaningful input.
  • “Reporting back.”

What is adequate notice and opportunity to be heard?  It includes reaching out to citizens in ways that get their attention and adequately inform them why input is needed.  Consider Dave Meslin’s Ted Talk “The Antidote to Apathy” for ideas on how this area of planning might be improved.  Ideas shared by our participants included more readable notices provided in a variety of formats, scheduling meetings at different times of day, and at accessible places served by public transit.

What makes for meaningful input?  This would include opportunities to help define the problems to be solved, not just comment on proposed solutions.  It includes timely provision of information — citizens should not be asked to a meeting and then told a 100+ page report has been issued just that afternoon.  It also includes efforts to help break down complex issues and provide information in context and formats that help citizens digest that information.  Boone County’s recently released Citizen’s Guide to County Finances is a good example of one effort to do just that.  “Meaningful input” also means that there is actually a possibility that the input will make a difference.  It is the opposite of what our participants described here:

“With the trash issue, the city asked for opinions, and then it appeared they were definitely going to use roll carts. At that point I stopped responding to surveys.”

“Was the city really “up in the air” about rollcarts, and wanting to gauge opinions, or were they trying to find out “If we do this thing, how many people will hate it?” I am being facetious but the perceptions were there that participation was meaningless.”

Reporting back simply means communication on what input was received, how it was used, the decisions made, and the reasons for these decisions.  Forum participants thought this was an area where significant improvements could be made.

Share your thoughts on “citizen-centered planning” in the comments. Where do you see it? What changes would you make?