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.
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.