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Thread: Drawbacks of Citizen Participation

  1. #1

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    Drawbacks of Citizen Participation

    I am currently working on a research paper re: citizen participation. Is it possible that no one has nything bad to say about the topic (case studies etc.). All of the work I have come accross rehashes the same ideas. If anyone knows of resources, which contradict the idea that citizens are better able to plan than are the trained planners, let me know.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    I have said this before, I do not believe in intense public participation in planning.

    Here is why, including examples from real places.


    1) People tend to get too focussed on directly how planning may effect their property and not look at the big picture or ignore the big picture for something that is not important I have lost count of the number of times I have spent more time explaining the location of lot lines and how they are determined on a map versus what the property is zoned or what a plan can do for them

    2) Vested interests, unless you are aware what a persons secret/vested interest or motivation is you may get played for a fool at a public meeting. Note, people with vested interests tend to be all to prepared to try and play you in public.

    3) Similar to #2 - Bullies/mob mentality. If a few vocal local bullies attend a meeting they can destroy the work a greater number of rational citizens have put in and pretty much kill the planning process aand ability to implement plans in an area.

    This could only be in the rural areas with no locally accountable gov't that I have worked, but i don't think so.
    Last edited by donk; 03 Apr 2003 at 3:18 PM.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Citizen input is most valuable at two stages: articulating the goals and objectives; and choosing from alternative stratieges. The planner develops the goals and objectives, but from what source can you decide other than the citizens? The planner develops the strategies, while the citizens select (sometimes approve) them. Without the citizen involvement, the plan is meaningless.

    I admit there have been times that I have done nearly the whole thing, but those instances have not been as effective. Working on a comprehensive plan now, I have convinced the governing body of several things by citing a recent citizens survey, where my thoughts alone would have been ignored.

    That being said, donk is right in some instances. No one technique works in all instances. I had a focus grouip ruined by one bully; I had public meetings on vision statements devolve into lot line disputes.

  4. #4

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    I tend to agree with donk and Mike about citizen participation. If the public is given too much power in the planning process, their myopic interests can lead to your undoing.

    That being said, a lack of citizen participation can lead to crazy actions like this.

    Chicago is probably a great example -- and a warning -- of what can be done with little public participation.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Well, I was told constantly for 2 years during planning school about how important citizen participation is….so I am brainwashed. But…..

    I am learning that the problem with citizen participation is the turnout, not the number but more of who turns out. Most people in the world are busy and don’t have the time to participate, unless you through in some BBQ and then people come form the next county!! But I digress, anyway, it seems people that are “positive” and “happy” stay home. This means the people (and I am generalizing) that show up are either 1) mad about something, 2) have their own interest at stake (as donk said), or 3) are self-proclaimed leaders meddling in everything that have NO training or education about the subject. And amazingly, this seems to hold true crossing barriers of socio-cultural and economical class. WOW.

    So the problem is that the opinion you get from a public meeting is VERY skewed.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Let me echo everyone else, most particularly Mike Gurnee. There is a place for citizen input at the beginning of the project, in establishing a broad vision of the community they want to become. After that it is the planner's role to divise strategies, alternaitves, etc. I would again look for citizen comments (but approval only from the plan commission) when it comes to adopting the final strategies and the completed plan.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    This is pretty long.

    I am going to build on Huston's comments and add something I have been working on for a while. Hopefully this makes sense and gives you a chuckle.

    Types of People who Attend Public Meetings

    Every public hearing I have ever been to or held has had these groups show up.

    1) Sky is blue people. You'll both agree that the sky is blue, but they will want to argue over how you describe the shade of blue. Nothing is ever good enough for these people. If they want really strict controls yours are not strict enough, if they want really lax controls yours are not lax enough. Typically characterised by telling you how well educated they are, how wealthy they are and how much development experience they perceive themselves to have.

    2) Little old people. They got a notice in the mail, saw it in the church bulletin or newspaper and thought they should come see what is happening. Typically the combined age of the couple is over 150 years and the combined height is less then 10 feet tall. Characterised by women with blue hair, hideous sweaters and little old men wearing high school graduation suit and a hat. Usually relatively entertaining to talk to and the wife refers to you as dear and says how nice it is that young people today can get a good job. They mostly attend for the human interaction.

    3) Drunks. Every meeting has at least on that shows up. It is hard to say what is more over powering, the smell of hard liquor or Hai Karate they use to try and cover the smell of liquor. Don’t contribute much, but can work the crowd into a tizzy over irrelevant items.

    4) Bullies. They attend the meeting and their presence overpowers what is being presented as they intimidate most people in the room. The salutation of choice of these people is “see you in court”.

    5) Self proclaimed leaders. Get up and say I represent this sector of the community. You then turn and ask the appointed or elected representative from the group these people claim to represent and are typically told that person is a crack pot and a pain in the ass. These people tend to also be sky is blue in nature.

    6) Comedian. Uses the opportunity to provide a skit on the topic being presented. Usually presents flawed information, but does it in such a charming fashion that they undermine the good work done by others.

    7) Been Heres – 1 . Long time residents that do not want the community change.

    8) Been Heres –2. Long time residents who own large parcels of land and see it as a gravy train. Favourite quote from these people is “I own 100 acres, I should be able to get 98 one acre lots out of that piece of ground”. What about the roads? We’ll do it with cross access agreements and private Right of ways.

    9) Come heres - 1. Typically combined with sky is blue people. I have chosen to live in this place because it is (pick 1) so quaint, historic, rural, friendly. Now do something to protect why I moved here and make it so others can’t come and destroy my piece of heaven.

    10) Come heres –2. I bought this land recently as an investment and you had better not do anything to reduce my ability to make a profit.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Citizen participation in public hearing only works if they have a clue what's going on. I have found that working with homeowners groups on long-term projects results in a lot of educated, planning-savvy citizens who know what to focus on when making comments and help keep the neighborhood nut cases at bay.

    It falls apart quickly when (1)you get a grandstander or (2) god forbid, they send their kids up to speak, or (3) you get the ones who think they have veto power over every picky little detail at every stage of development.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    I forgot the singing children in my rant.

    It has only happened once on an application I worked on. Fortunately I was not ther to have to listen to it. Unfortunately, it was on the radio the next day.

    They sang - "Let it Be".
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    donk, are you talking about those that attend the meeting or those who sit on the board????
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  11. #11

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    I worked on a neighborhood plan in an area where there was a large existing public housing population and a significant (smaller, but growing) gentrifying-homeowner population. As one might expect, they clashed on everything -- the PH residents wanted more social services, the homeowners wanted none; the PH residents wanted an assurance that public housing was staying in the neighborhood, the homeowners wanted it all demolished.

    The disagreements led to the establishment of separate leaders representing both factions in our citizen advisory group. There were actual fistfights. But, in the name of racial unity, both factions would declare their unending support to the other in public settings, actually hugging each other. It was infuriating to me.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Queen B, A bit of both, but mostly the public.

    If I was talking about Boards and Councils I'd have to add:

    1) The sleeper, nods off during the meeting, never sure what agenda item is being discussed always confused.

    2) The retired expert. Is an expert in something vaguely related to planning, usually earth sciences (geologist, Civil Engineer, agronomist) and makes sure he gets to spew his useless and usually unrelated knowledge about every application. Particularily harmful if you have an etch a sketch on the board.

    3) The etch sketch. The person who only looks at and remembers exactly what is in front of him. As soon as he gets new inforamtion any past information is lost.

    4) The Formalist. A person who tries to control every meeting by quoting Robert's Rules of Order and demanding that they be followed even in informal settings. Typically this person does not have a clue about courtesy and being polite. Frequently a bully.
    Last edited by donk; 04 Apr 2003 at 2:30 PM.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by pete-rock
    The disagreements led to the establishment of separate leaders representing both factions in our citizen advisory group. There were actual fistfights. But, in the name of racial unity, both factions would declare their unending support to the other in public settings, actually hugging each other. It was infuriating to me.
    This is one thing I cannot stand. I have a great deal more respect for the person I disagree with, who consistently stands by their position in public or private, than I do for the person I agree with but changes their public actions and statements to fit with the crowd.

  14. #14

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    A lot of funny and interesting things happen when you get people into the process. But most of the bad things happen in communities where people are invited into the process only in adversarial settings (ie public hearings on development proposals) or when someone says, hey let's invite folks to a meeting and see what they say without spending much, if any, energy on the design of the process. A well designed public involvement process can usually squeeze something constructive out of most communities, even polarized ones. My experience is that implementation only happens when the public buys in …_

    I also invite people to consider the reverse propostion. What happens if we leave it all to the planners? We know the answer: broad citizen participation was a minor component of planning in most places until the late '60's, early '70's. Planners and engineers, working with the guidance of elected officials, planning commissions made up of good old boys, and developers built what? The sprawl that so many people spend so much time railing against today. What happened in those decades where the citizens weren't involved that we are really proud of?

    I am not saying it is planners "fault." The profession tailed along with the larger society (even though we knew better, as the planning theory of the 1920's makes very clear). But planners are going to be able to do the "right thing" ONLY (let me repeat that, ONLY) if they are backed by a well-informed public that actively participates in the local civic and political process.

    Funny things happen, sad things happen, but citizen involvement is the only game in town. Its up to us to make it fulfill its potential.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    I have enjoyed reading everyone’s lists of ‘types’ so much that I want to share some enjoyable happenings at recent meetings I attended.

    At a recent meeting here in a small municipality in South Florida one person used the time to explain / sing about her vision for the new Word Trade Centers site in New York City. She had no drawings, but she explained that it would be 111 stories, be solid black granite, have 3 solid gold elevators and a giant crystal ball on top!!

    As interesting and entertaining as this was, it greatly got us of course form the hospital expansion that was the focus topic. By the time it was over, everyone was disoriented.

    And yes we wanted to politely stop her, but no one could move.

    There is also a guy in this town who is a retired English professor and reads a poem about himself at every meeting, referring to himself in the third person (of course) as he talks.

    I could be wrong, but sometimes these meetings just seem like a place for people with “nothing better to do” and “no one else to talk to” and thus…very unproductive.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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