Friday, September 22, 2017
BLOG: Why Community Engagement Matters|
Working with local communities isn’t just business—it’s pleasure. That’s because in addition to working here, we live here, too. When it comes to making changes to our natural and built surroundings, we realize that our client is not just the municipality, but rather every citizen living, working and traveling in that community. At Clark Patterson Lee (CPL), we desire to deliver smart solutions that help build better communities.
Recently, CPL’s team members in Georgia participated in the Chamblee Mid-City Stroll, an event created to gather feedback from the community on a new project designed by our own Joe Powell.
The City of Chamblee is working on a project to develop the Peachtree Road Streetscape design that will determine the best solutions for roadway, sidewalk and other amenities along the Peachtree Road corridor in the heart of downtown Chamblee, along with the extensions of the Chamblee Rail Trail.
Participants in the stroll visited vendors along the path to learn about how the proposed changes would affect their community.
“When you’re proposing changes to someone’s street, you’d expect people to be upset about it. We got the opposite response,” said Matt Dickison, Development Director with the City of Chamblee, as well as an Urban Planner at CPL. “Everybody wanted to participate and give their feedback on all the changes.”
At each of the seven stops along the stroll, there was an opportunity to give feedback through various activities with play money, before-and-after photographs, survey responses and by selecting favorite features from the plan.
Rebecca Keefer, Development Deputy Director with the City of Chamblee, and CPL Urban Planner, said the games opened their eyes on what the community is really looking for.
“We had planned on adding a fitness park, but found that it scored very low. We can now eliminate this feature and allocate that funding to a different part of the project,” Keefer said.
Dickison and Keefer agreed that they’re essentially working for the citizens of Chamblee, so those opinions should certainly be considered. Meanwhile, designers beg the questions: can it happen, is it feasible, and is it safe?
“There should be a balance between the engineer’s expert views on ground rules and technical realities, and realizing that what looks good on a map doesn’t necessarily look good in person,” Keefer said.
CPL focuses on a client-centered approach, making plans a bit more flexible to accommodate the needs and wants of the majority.
Dickison credits much of the success of the event to the use of tactical urbanism: temporary, low-cost changes to the environment, used to improve local neighborhoods or city gathering places. The Chamblee event featured makeshift benches, bike trails, crosswalks, a temporary park with artificial grass, and more. This allowed event goers to see and feel what some of the changes would be like in real life.
“There is a lot of embodied knowledge in the community that you just can’t get from models and spec books that gives us a real-world view of any local strengths or constraints to incorporate into work,” added Justin Steinbach, Associate at CPL.
“Engaging with the community is an important part of the overall design process,” said Steinbach. “When we design or build a project, we just have a small part in the lifecycle; the community is a regular user, so their input is important to making sure we deliver something that accommodates their needs.”
CPL is aware that a project is a success only if the citizens are able to interact with their community more effectively than they were before. This stretches from park design, to crosswalks, to transportation.
“During the heyday of transportation design, everything was centered around one user – the driver. Whether cars, trucks or buses, the focus was getting vehicles from point A to point B as quickly as possible,” said Jennifer Michniewicz, Principal Associate at CPL.
“Over time, engineers and planners realized that this was the wrong approach and we should also consider other users like pedestrians and bicycles. We now engage the public collectively to find solutions that still get people from point A to point B, but do so in a way that brings people together,” she said.
The Chamblee Mid-City Stroll was the first event of its kind, combining several different types of feedback into a branded event where restaurants and businesses were able to join in as well. CPL hopes to host many similar events in the future.
Amanda Koneski is a Marketing Coordinator with extensive experience in creating content for websites, social media, brochures and mailings; designing digital and print advertising materials; assisting in script writing, planning, and directing for radio and TV commercials; and organizing events. Amanda's everyday focus on marketing includes proposal coordination, social media management and quality content creation. Her hobbies include kayaking, hiking, decorating and campaigning for United Way.
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