October 21, 2013

Charles Marohn on “Public Engagement”

Better! Cities and Towns has just featured items from Charles Marohn’s new book, “Neighborhoods First.”  He will be an SFU City Program speaker on October 24.  (You can reserve here.)

Here’s an excerpt:

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I think there is a place for formal public engagement, but for neighborhoods in distress, there has to be a different process. I’m not pretending I know exactly what that is, but I’m absolutely convinced it means getting off the desk chair, getting out of the office, changing out of the tie and dress shirt and actually trying to walk a mile – quite literally – in someone else’s shoes.

For our Neighborhood’s First report, we spent a lot of time just taking note of how people lived in the neighborhood. Where did they walk? When did they walk? Where would they drive and park? How did they bike? What were the little things they would do – the streets they avoided or the shortcuts they would take – and why?

I took every opportunity I could to talk to people, not as inquisitor or authority figure but as neighbor. One night we were out taping down a temporary crosswalk. A neighbor got home from work and came out to see what we were doing. Through the course of the conversation, I found out that the lack of a crosswalk was not a big deal to them (they drive the block to the grocery store, which was safe to do albeit kind of silly) but that the security lights on the back of the strip mall across the street shined in their windows at night and kept them awake. I bought a light detector and measured it for myself. Yep, it was beyond what the city’s code allowed (and what a good neighbor would do). We’re going to approach that strip mall and see if we can get that taken care of.

More here.

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