Community planning: Personal retrospective

by trenzpruca

Simulation - 7

Simulation – 7 (Photo credit: onestudentry)

 

Over two decades ago I had the opportunity to manage a governmental entity that among other things, was charged with resolving conflicts between development, community and environmental concerns. We developed a process, relatively novel at the time, encouraging those involved or concerned (later to be called “stakeholders”) to solve their disagreements among themselves.

 

The process required a team of technicians that could immediately turn a suggestion into a visual representation. This included someone capable of converting the discussions as they occurred into visual and organized notes for all to see. It also included a compendium of the financial and fiscal resources currently available thus forcing the participants to consider the same type of tradeoffs government and private interests must make in deciding what can be done and how long will it take. Finally it required an entity, in this case our agency, who could more or less on the spot make commitments to carry out or support with financial resources the carrying out of at least initial elements of the agreed upon program.

 

What surprised me the most was not that we were successful in almost all cases, as we were, but that despite the heated rhetoric expressed before regulatory or legislative bodies, or in the media the disagreements were so often so slight.

 

Although conflict resolution techniques and design charrettes continue to be used almost everywhere, our particular intensive program eventually fell into disuse. That was because the urban areas included in our jurisdiction were limited in number and once the specific issues in conflict were resolved in these communities they remained so for a decade or longer. Also the process was management and personnel intensive and inevitably such activities in any organization eventually are replaced by a more procedural and careerist focus.

 

Fast forward to today, modern communications technology and social networking appears to be transforming almost everything we do, from how and where we work to how we entertain ourselves and socialize.

 

In community and urban development we now have all the information we could want at our fingertips although not necessarily organized and usable. A simple internet research shows that we have a plethora online communities dedicated to community action of one kind or another. Yet what happens when these online communities conflict with one another? As anyone who has actually been involved in assisting in the resolution of significant conflicts, good intentions and talking things out are not enough. Not only must thoughts and ideas be converted into a communications medium so that each participant has the same understanding as everyone else, but immediate unbiased response on the technical facts must be available if the enthusiasm and commitment to the process is not to wither and die waiting for it. Finally the facts of the limits must be available in a usable form to the participants.

 

Social media, in regard to community planning provides an advanced medium for sharing of information and ideas and encouraging coöperation and should the participants agree collective action. However, before collective action can occur, especially for something a complex and contentious as community planning the most difficult form of group or collective action is the resolution of those conflicts that more often than not are the reason for undertaking the collaborative planning process in the first place.

 

Modern communications technology and social networks offer the promise of real resolution of community conflicts. Nevertheless, it remains a promise that needs to be addressed.

 

 

 

 

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