Forget about the NIMBYs vs. greedy developers showdowns. The real stories in local government are about efforts to create more interesting and attractive urban environments, and the people involved in these efforts. Some are elected officials or city workers, but many aren’t. They’re people in neighborhoods doing things that are slightly unusual, such as walking, biking, or taking buses to work . . . or restoring old homes.
Some of the most exciting urban projects around were once considered crazy ideas. So how do you tell the difference between a crazy idea that’s a great leap forward and one that’s . . . just plain crazy? And what do you do with the determined people behind these projects? Here’s a way to separate the bold but doable projects from the delusional, while encouraging citizens to dream big.
If you want strong local leaders and involved citizens in the future, start today by helping people find one another and get organized for any legitimate purpose. Then be patient. The good news: Cities are good at helping people make connections. With a little effort, they could be great.
Most local officials have it wrong about citizen engagement. The point isn’t to hear what the citizens think about issues before the government. It’s about something deeper: understanding citizens’ long-term interests and desires. If done right, it can then lead to a second important goal: Recruiting citizens in taking on a community’s greatest problems and opportunities.
Change usually creates resistance, and big changes create big resistance. So how can you lower the fear level for your civic project? Start by shrinking the change down to a single slice, offered in the right place and managed in the right way.