Is Goal 1 Obsolete?

Statewide Planning Goal # 1:

To develop a citizen involvement program that insures the opportunity
for citizens to be involved in all phases of the planning process.

[read the rest of the goal text here (PDF, 12K)]

There seems to be a difference of opinion about what this means in the context of the “Big Look” review of the statewide land use planning system. As reported on OPB 1000 Friends of Oregon Executive Director Bob Stacy and Metro President (and Big Look task force member) David Bragdon seem to have slightly different views about citizen input in the Big Look work plan:

Stacy says the state should be talking to fewer interest groups and instead holding meetings across Oregon. Bragdon counters that not all public involvement is helpful.

David Bragdon: “I think a lot of so-called citizen involvement in Oregon today is actually being dominated by non-representative, self-appointed narrow special interests. I think the task force is really interested in understanding the experience of people who actually doing things in the land-use system or dealing with the system – a lot of whom won’t show up at a hearing. So we’re trying to get beyond the special interests and get a broader cross-section.”

[Disclaimer: I am both a member of 1000 Friends and collaborate with them on projects through the Coalition for a Livable Future. And I was also appointed as a citizen representative on the Metro Policy Advisory Committee by President Bragdon.]

This has an interesting parallel in the “New Look” process at Metro for updating our regional land use and transportation plans. Metro’s “Regional Forums” seem to be aimed at the “stakeholder groups” (players in the system) while Metro plans to conduct polling to find out what “average citizens” think.

Taking a cynical view, I might wonder if this translates into two target audiences: groups that might run an initiative campaign against an outcome they don’t like and the voters that would vote on such initiatives. A more charitable view is that Metro has recognized that the old paradigms are not working and is trying new techniques.

But what about those citizens who will actually come out and participate in planning processes just for the sake of making their communities better? Are we being squeezed out of the process? Are we assumed to be just another interest group?

I take this a little bit personally, as I have sometimes been characterized as a “professional citizen activist” [although I derive no part of my income from my activism]. I understand that in many planning processes I’m one of the “same old faces” and I applaud Metro’s efforts to involve more people, even if only in a representative poll. But still I can’t help feeling a little devalued by the discussion that seems to be happening about citizen involvement at both the state and regional levels. After all, those “same old faces” are often the people who have been involved long enough and deeply enough to actually have a informed perspective on the issues.

Does Goal 1 need to be rewritten to deal with the post-Bowling Alone era? Is the traditional citizen involvement process old hat? How do we engage citizens now? Are there “citizens” left out there, or just a public that sees themselves as consumers of government services?

[Shameless plug: I am hosting one of the City Club’s Citizen Salons which will feature David Bragdon and Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad (another Big Look task force member). Join us for brunch in August and discuss this issue with them directly.]

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