Public engagement: Meet people where they are, and other lessons

Resident engagement leads to better communities, planners and elected officials must meet people where they are, and residents can be effective advocates when they get involved. Those were the key messages that emerged from CRT’s forum, “Public Engagement in Planning. The third installment of CRT’s 2021 Power of Ten Forum Series was held online on June 24. Facilitated by Ashley Northington (DENOR Brands & PR), the panel featured Darden Copeland (Calvert Street Group), Kia Jarmon (MEPR Public Relations), Mike Matteson (Williamson Co Planning), Freddie O'Connell (Metro Council).



Planners, developers, and elected officials needs to...


Understand that resident engagement leads to better places. Public engagement isn't simply a formality, it strengthens communities and makes neighborhoods better places.

Go to where the people are. Engaging with residents through hyperlocal venues, such as church groups, neighborhood organizations, and HOA meetings, allows for more fruitful conversations.


Know that technology isn't a panacea. While technology may have made it easier to reach residents -- through email, social media, and other online tools -- it doesn't always facilitate a civil or informed discussion. In addition, as COVID made clear, there is a clear digital divide with many people lacking access.

Have empathy and understand the context. On an individual level residents often have a lot invested in their community, whether it be relationships, history, or wealth, so change can be difficult. And at a community level, every neighborhood has a story. It's important to make an effort to understand the community, the residents' challenges, and the history of neighborhood.


Residents should...

Know what they are for. Residents need to know what they are for so they can advocate effectively and it makes it easier for planners and developers to address residents concerns when their desires are clear.


Learn the process. Residents need to educate themselves on the planning and development processes in their communities and identify the areas where they can have the most impact. For example, residents can have a significant impact on comprehensive plans, which set up the parameters that guide future growth of their neighborhoods.


Stay involved. Getting involved with neighborhood groups is a great way to stay up-to-date and build relationships. It is easier to engage on an issue with elected officials, planners, or developers if there are established relationships.


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