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Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

What is the current situation?

Elected officials are charged with managing and leading the city. On a daily basis, community leaders make decisions on issues ranging from repairing potholes to developing major economic development strategies for the city. In addition, most elected officials are serving their communities on a volunteer basis and have full-time jobs in addition to their civic duties. So with an ever-growing list of items to address and a very limited time frame, officials often do not often have time to organize public input sessions or focus groups or survey the general public for every issue that arises.

In some instances, issues arise that garner more attention in the public’s eye than others. Elected officials can attract a tremendous amount of criticism when the general public feels as though decisions were made without their input. This can create a very difficult situation for the leaders.

Public outcry is commonly seen with issues related to growth, development, and planning. Citizens are often very defensive about decisions that will impact their property or development in general. When making decisions related to planning policies, it is crucial that the public be well informed about the intentions and goals of the policy. Often the public only hears about the “what,” such as the rezoning, new ordinance, or new policy. They are typically unaware of the reasoning behind the change or the “why.”

Citizens are asked to prioritize the issues that are most important to them during a pubic input session in Columbus, Mississippi. This allows all stakeholders an opportunity to voice their opinions about issues, which allows leaders to make informed decisions for their community. Oftentimes this process also allows residents to have a more realistic understanding of the number of issues facing the community and how difficult it is to choose the highest priority. (Photograph ©2009 Jeremy Murdock)

When establishing a long-term vision related to growth and development within a community, it is imperative that the citizens are involved in the process. Encouraging a collaborative environment between the residents, developers, and elected officials allows for the development of a long-term plan that will be sustainable. When the entire community is involved in establishing the vision, the implementation of that vision can outlast the ever-changing elected leadership.

Elected officials should create opportunities for public discussions about various topics and should value the input of their constituents. Not only should the policy changes be outlined, but more importantly the reasons behind them and why the changes are important to the long-term sustainability of the community should be outlined. When citizens understand the “end state” that is trying to be achieved, they will be more likely to support the initiatives. However, when they feel like the local government is simply trying to impose new rules and laws to stifle growth and development, they will be much more likely to oppose those measures.

The photograph above illustrates the current condition of the major thoroughfare in this community. The current state of the corridor is seen as an eyesore, and most residents see the need to revitalize the area. The elected officials realize that the existing conditions are a direct result of the current policies that are in place to guide development. Realizing this, the officials plan to completely rewrite the development code for the community in order to achieve a different result with new development in the future. The long-term vision is for this corridor to become more walkable and valuable in the future, so the officials have selected a Form-based Code as the model for the new development code. In an effort to quell public outcry, the officials host various workshops and informational sessions, as well as launch a comprehensive advertising campaign to inform the residents of the issues. As part of the marketing campaign and educational sessions, they use graphics and images to illustrate the long-term vision and impact of their plans. The officials feel as though residents can understand the Form-based Code better if they can actually see the results of the code. (Photograph ©2013 Jeremy Murdock)
This photograph is used to illustrate the impact that the Form-based Codes can have on the corridor. Since the Form-based Code values the form of the building and the quality of the public realm rather than simply the use of the building, the result would be much more attractive and financially successful. By showing the general public an example of what the new code can accomplish, the public will be much more likely to support the initiative. (Photograph ©2012 Jeremy Murdock)
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