PlacemakingUS recently connected some resident placemakers via phone who have been having trouble getting a holler-back from their respective City Halls.
These are neighborhood leaders, the kinda folks who organize neighborhood clean-ups and trunk-or-treats, follow-up with city staff to thank them and act as the eyes and ears of code enforcement.
These leaders gathered to gripe that they try and do as much for their neighborhoods as they can, but they can't seem to get quality, timely responses from the public realm, city-responsible departments like Public Works and Planning when they need them.
Even when they elevate issues, and call their representatives or their staffers, they still can't get a holler-back these days. They're frustrated. They're ready to give-up. And we can't have that, because it's the agency of these small actors who help prop up every special square of urban fabric.
So we got a few of them together and they spit-balled what's worked and what hasn't. Here are some of the juicier morsels:
#1 Strategy - The Art of the CC
Their best strategy for evoking a quick response from local government was by "CCing" the right mix of people in an email including the relevant elected and staff as well as interested community members or stakeholders. They didn't know why this worked so well -- if it invoked some form of competitiveness or if it just looked like a total clusterf$# waiting to happen such that somebody had to grab the wheel and correct the course by eliciting helpful, useful information! It must be said, some caution should be exercised with this strategy as its overuse and or lack of tact can take things totally off the rails.
#2 Strategy - Beat Your Own Drum
The group recognized that electeds and city staff more quickly address items creating heat online or controversy in the media. They're also quick to jump in and act heroically when a story is framed the right way. We talked about drumming up your own "solutions-oriented journalism" and social media and putting it out there to make the community's perspective more prescient with more people.
#3 Strategy - Build Relationships and Recognize Contributions
We all agreed that more city employees, electeds and public servants are good and helpful than the occasional difficult egg and that they are mostly incredibly overwhelmed by work, dire requests and even threats. Therefore, the ultimate strategy and only long-term play is to build relationships, create opportunities to spend time together and find ways to visibilize good work and recognize contributions. These actions help create an upward spiral of partnerships, trust, transparency and shared ownership.
There were many other ideas that were shared among the group, but these seem like some of the powerful, positive ones that could apply broadly. Please feel free to contribute your own strategies or examples!
Article by Ryan Smolar
The PlaceSpeak Series consists of report-outs from topical conversations we organize and host between placemakers to share knowledge and tactics.