In Della Rucker's post "What can Planners do to Help the Economy," she recommends planner's view their role as the "best teachers" to ensure meaningful public engagement:
Model your public participation after the best teachers. Don’t just lecture or allow others to lecture. Don’t do the minimum necessary to get by. Give the process structure so that people stay on track and so that you hear from everyone, and engage them in the search for solutions, rather than presenting them a grand vision and waiting for them to applaud or throw tomatoes.
When we ask for public comments on a draft plan we are never certain what public reaction to the plan will be, but we are pretty sure nobody will throw tomatoes because the plan is created in collaboration with the citizens, town boards, and town staff. Through community workshops and facilitated engagement, we provide the information citizens need to think through the issues and the structure they need to search for solutions together including interactive exercises and digital group polling.
With the release of two draft plans in April, I am in great anticipation of citizen reaction and feedback. Bridgewater's Housing Production Plan and Stoughton's Community Preservation Plan are the products of engaged town committees, staff, and citizens and based on best practices and community values.
For example, Bridgewater's Housing Production Plan recommends developing affordable housing downtown in multi-family and multi-use buildings as well as through adaptive reuse of historic buildings based directly on community workshop feedback. These goals will require various zoning amendments based on a shared vision for new development downtown. Below is a sketch we've included in the draft plan to help citizen's envision new development that is designed with the intent of improving and revitalizing downtown.
In Stoughton, citizen feedback guided the Community Preservation Plan recommend protection of privately owned open space, preserving historic town-owned resources, creating well-planned public recreation opportunities on town-owned land, and creating affordable housing through adaptive reuse of historic mills to help revitalize downtown.
As an aside - you may have noticed that both plans have similarities in that they recognize affordable housing as an opportunity for smart growth, historic preservation, and downtown revitalization.
The full draft plans can be accessed through the links provided above. As we await public comments on these plans we'd also be interested in your thoughts about them! You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.