Consensus Building

Public involvement is more than just a process. It often determines the outcome.
Because a new development in a city can have a big impact on local residents and business owners, cities should understand the gravity of why public participation is important and also the risks involved with conducting second-rate outreach.

For example, Eric Jaffe of CityLab writes about a bridge project in Philadelphia that almost fell through because city planners were not aware of changing preferences and, more importantly, the social shift happening on the neighborhood level:

When talk of a new bridge had first surfaced, it was common for urban bridges to look and function just like highway bridges. Bike lanes, pedestrian access, and the concept of limiting travel lanes to slow down traffic hadn’t been part of the original design discussion; the goal was moving cars.

The people had also changed. Neighborhoods at both ends of the bridge had gentrified over that time period, and the stale highway design that former residents had approved — or, perhaps, felt resigned to accept — now received a chilly reception.

It’s important to engage in the public for several reasons: The public is a rich source of ideas. Community members understand their region’s transportation issues and challenges. Outreach leads to representation from broad and varied segments of the communities. And federal law often requires projects to include public participation. 

Lack of funding is the top reason behind most lackluster attempts at public participation. Cities can solve this by budgeting more money upfront for community meetings. This can save money in the future in:

•    Legal fees spent in litigation
•    Staff time spent educating the public
•    Delays in development and construction

Communication is the key to success, and RSG can help with that communication.

Written by Jeff Khau, a Research Analyst at RSG.