By WALTER MUNDAY
Outreach and Volunteer Manager
Last night, I had the opportunity to participate in a community planning meeting for a brand new park and modifications to an existing park in southeastern Jefferson County. The process provided citizens an opportunity for input into the future of these parks located in/around their neighborhoods. As a new staff member of Metro Parks, I applaud efforts made by my colleagues in the planning division. Not for the countless hours spent at public meetings on three separate occasions, or for the door-to-door flyer distribution, but for the mere fact that they transposed input shared from the two previous meetings into the development template for these two parks. And for that, I salute them!
Okay, I work for parks. What undisclosed reason(s) prompted me to write this? Well… following the meeting, one citizen approached me on their way out with the question, “Why are you having these meetings? You don’t have the money right now to build anything… why get the residents all worked up for nothing.”
Was that the reason why I decided to submit my thoughts? Maybe? Maybe it was an attempt to highlight what works in government. In times like these where traditional and social media seemed focused on demonizing government for what they perceive as the “wrong way” to govern, which for the most part prompts the phrase, “they’re not listening to the people!” Maybe that’s the reason why I’m writing this; to share the contrary.
The American Planning Association’s (APA) website indicates that “community engagement” is a process of working collaboratively with individuals and groups to achieve specific goals. For parks and open spaces, community engagement allows public officials and park staff an opportunity to work collectively with their constituencies in the ongoing design, planning, and management of park resources. This process results in informed and engaged residents that feel better connected to their communities. While sometimes contentious, but more often productive and rewarding, community engagement is an essential ingredient of making successful open space decisions.
I applaud the public officials, park planning staff and equally important, the residents, who participated in this process. This was “democracy” at its best!
What was my response to the citizen last night? Well… I simply said, “as stewards of public resources, we should at all times “listen” to our citizens. This exercise, despite the lack of current designated dollars, is a proactive attempt to capture citizen input on the front end and be better to prepared to make decisions later when funding sources are available.