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By Sharlan Douglas, APR
- “Why don’t they get it?”
- “Why can’t we get that underrepresented group of citizens* to participate?”
- “Well if only 10 people came to our town hall, then that’s what we’re going to go with.”
- “Since we lost the local paper people don’t know what we’re doing.”
*Parents, young people, low-income residents, ethnic/religious communities
Recognizing those common themes, the Michigan Association of Planning asked Metromode editor Nina Ignaczak, AICP and me to present “Storytelling for Planners” at its October, 2016 conference. Our essential assumption was that planners don’t want just any plan. They want plans that truly represent the views of the people in their communities.
Here are highlights from our presentation.
Simplify, simplify, simplify!
I say this with love: Planners are nerds. We love statistics, spreadsheets and charts. We speak in jargon. That doesn’t work for our general audiences. We give them this:
When they need this:
Humans are “wired for story.”
Stories are how we survive. Here’s a useful TED talk on the topic. Don’t have 17 minutes? Watch from 8:07 to 10:45.
People will care about your plans when you make your stories their stories.
Think like a reporter.
Look for stories. It’s not too hard. They’re all around you. People phone you with questions, criticism or praise. They come to public meetings, attend your events, post on social media. They WANT to tell their stories. All you have to do is listen and record what they say. Be interested not interesting. Ask open-ended questions. Let silences linger; people will fill them. Be dumb. Say, “Tell me more about that.”
Go where the stories are.
It’s not enough to say “We held a town hall and nobody came.” Set up a kiosk at the library or senior center or a booth at the farmer’s market. Get permission to go to a church that isn’t your own – especially if it’s a temple, mosque or synagogue – to talk with people after coffee hour or in a special meeting. Meet with the PTA. Go to kids soccer games.
You own the channels. Use them.
The loss of traditional media, like local papers, has been offset by abundant channels THAT YOU CONTROL. Start with your community’s website and Facebook page then move on to Instagram and Youtube. Snapchat and Twitter have a little bigger learning curve.
Any story is better than no story.
A captioned photo would be enough but you’ve got a media studio right in your pocket, with photos and audio and video recordings at your fingertips. You’d be amazed at what you can edit and produce right on your smartphone. With Adobe Spark on your computer, you can create presentations superior to Powerpoint in the same or even less time.
Nina created this excellent list of links to digital storytelling tools. Poke around there. Then get started telling your stories. You don’t have to be complete or perfect. Just do something.
By Charlotte Wilson
After an outbreak of hepatitis caused by a sudden sewage pipe burst in 1984, Kenton County, KY came to the unpleasant realization that their infrastructure had not been mapped. Over 30 years the county blazed a trail and is now a respected model of best practices in geographic information systems (GIS).
Many of today’s communities face Kenton County’s dilemma. When the Flint water crises hit, other Michigan cities woke to the potential problem and couldn’t find out if their own pipes contained lead. While you may never have a crisis like Kenton County, mapping your infrastructure provides important support for planning, public health, safety, maintenance, and replacement. It can give you visual tools to explain your community’s infrastructure needs and gain public support for your repair and replacement plans.
The attached maps display the sanitary sewer and water maps from our client Sylvan Township. As an addition to their master plan, the township now has an additional resource to aid in planning future developments. (These maps are drafts and are subject to change in the final master plan.)
(Contact Charlotte for information about Carlisle/Wortman Associates’ GIS services.)
At Carlisle/Wortman Associates we understand the importance of public art in a community and we also understand the need for infrastructure. So it was a no-brainer for us to support PowerArt!, a collaboration between the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, the Public Art Commission and the Arts Alliance. The project covers traffic boxes in downtown Ann Arbor with vinyl, printed art reproductions by local artists. Considered public art or an urban canvas the traffic boxes contribute colorful, eye-catching fun to downtown while discouraging flyer-posters and graffiti artists from covering the boxes. You’ll find our powered-up box at the corner of Ashley and Washington.
“People choose to settle in places that offer the amenities, social and professional networks, resources and opportunities to support thriving lifestyles. Michigan can attract and retain talent – especially young, knowledge-based talent – by focusing on how best to take advantage of the unique placemaking assets of our regional communities,” says the State of Michigan’s MiPlace.org website.
For the past six years the state’s planning and economic development teams have focused their resources on creating attractive, healthy places to live and work. At the same time, the forms of recreation that are expanding are those favored by the very millennials placemaking targets. “Think REI instead of Cabela’s,” says this Bridge Magazine article.
Bridge reports that since 2009, the number of resident hunters in Michigan dropped 10 percent and the number of fishing licenses fell by a third.
“It is a different mentality,” said Brad Garmon of the Michigan Environmental Council. “The hunting and fishing generation was a lot about family, going away to deer camp together. The millennial generation is much more about weaving activities into their daily life.” Those activities include hiking, climbing, mountain biking, paddleboarding, geocaching and kayaking.
The city of Marquette targets mountain bikers and, yes, surfers. Alpena promotes shipwreck diving, Tawas provides ideal winds for kiteboarders. If Grand Rapids can gain the necessary federal approvals, changes to the downtown portion of the Grand River could result in $16 to $19 million in annual economic impact from water tourism.
By Charlotte Wilson
When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for examples of good planning. While visiting in Davis, CA I spotted an innovative low-impact development drain and a parklet created by three businesses in parking spaces they licensed from the city. (Click on images to enlarge them).