Kicking Off Chapel Hill 2020

In just a few short hours the Chapel Hill 2020 process will officially kick off with a community meeting at East Chapel Hill High School. After an open house that introduces what the process will actually be, attendees will split off into small groups to try to develop a vision for the plan and to identify key themes that the plan should focus on. Each of these small groups will be led a facilitator from the Leadership Team (see my previous post What Exactly Is The Leadership Committee Anyway?). The discussion that emerges in each group will be also be recorded by a staff person. You can check out an agenda here. And keep in mind that childcare for children over the age of five will be provided for free by the YMCA and food will available for purchase from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA. 

If WiFi is available I'll be live blogging the event, but have no fear if it isn't. I'll be posting some updates on what happened after the meeting has ended. Hope to see you there! 

Post Meeting Update--As noted above, tonight was the kickoff for the Chapel Hill 2020 planning process. The meeting was clearly a success as the fire marshal counted 378 people at 7 p.m. and that number doesn't include those that moved their discussions outside and those not sitting at one of East Chapel Hill High School's cafeteria tables. I think it makes the most sense to report what happened chronologically and then give my feedback/thoughts. 

Open House: As participants walked into the meeting, they could pick up information or talk to representatives from a variety of town departments and local special interest organizations. Participants were given packets with information on the process and assigned to a table at random, to ensure a mixing of perspectives.

Welcome and Introduction: The mayor, town manager, facilitator and Chapel Hill 2020 co-chairs all spoke and introduced themselves. They gave the highlights of the what form the process will take place, empthasized the need for including as many voices as possible, outlined which issues the town is facing over the next few years and noted the increased level of participation that will be used for this year's plan compared with those of years past.

Small Group Breakout Sessions: Each group did essentially two things: a visioning exercise and a theme identification exercise. In the visioning process, participants were asked to read a definition of what a vision is and the visions that several other towns had adopted as part of their plans. Each participant then had the opportunity to engage discussion about what they thought the vision for Chapel Hill should include. Participants were then asked to translate those thoughts on the vision into themes.

Report Back: The meeting concluded with the facilitators from six different groups presenting what ideas their group had come with up. It was pretty interesting to see the different things that people came up with and it will be interesting to see how those thoughts translate into concrete parts of the plan.

My Thoughts: It was great to see the number of people at the meeting. It was a standing-room only crowd. What was more impressive was all the different perspectives that the participants represented. Just at my table alone (about 10 people), there were local business owners, an out-of-town developer, a UNC professor, a minister and others. It was clear that these people were from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and tat each had some different to add to the process. During our conversation, issues as wide-ranging as youth development, balanced tax burdens and making Chapel Hill the foodie capital of the South came up.

The downsides were few-and-far-between. The main problem was that there wasn't enough room for all the people who showed up. The setup was also problematic. It was hard to have meaningful group discussion in a noisy room with square tables. Group discussion scenarios also inevitably bring up personality conflicts: in my own group, I felt that certain people dominated the conversation, while others had less of chance to express their opinions. Finally, there should have been more clarification on how themes differed from the vision, at least at my table we wasted a lot of time talking about the distinction.

No matter what the process there will always be issues, but in sum I'm proud of what Chapel Hill has done with this meeting and look forward to more good things in the future. 



I was very excited to participate last night. I thought I'd share some about my experience. I'm very interested to hear about the small group experiences of other participants, as it sounds like each one was quite unique.

Due to work and other logistics, I wasn't able to arrive until shortly before 6pm. So I missed the open house, and had to stand in line while the Mayor was beginning his remarks. By the time I arrived, all the table assignments were given out, so I just looked for a seat anywhere. I tried to find a table where I didn't know anyone, but almost every table I saw had 1 or 2 people I knew. (Of course that means there were at least 6 people I didn't know, so don't go thinking this was the usual suspects.) Former Town Council Member Joe Capowski was at the table I chose.

My table was somewhat diverse age-wise, but very middle-class and all but one were white.  We also all had connections to UNC (alumni, staff, partners). Our facilitators had a fairly light touch, and it did not feel very structured, but the recorder (a Town staffer) did a good job of summarizing our themes and visions on the big report-out sheet.

There was a lot of discussion first about the difficulty of biking in Chapel Hill due to the lack of dedicated and safe facilities (ie: bike lanes and such).  We talked some about why this was, but I was more interested in talking about the CH of the future, not the problems right now. Personally, I spoke about the fact that we will have a lot more people living here in the future, and hopefully not more cars since they are ultimately going to become too expensive or environmentally-damaging to be used all the time. I am ready for the community to start articulating a new kind of growth, one that preserves our values while making room to evolve our forms and grow more dense (as opposed to sprawling out).

After our table was joined by Chamber of Commerce President Aaron Nelson, the conversation turned to retail and the issue of "leakage" or people going over county lines to do their shopping. There was disagreement about how big of a problem this is and what should be done about it. Aaron proposed annexing the southern rural buffer including the future Wal-Mart just over the county line at Starpoint. I didn't bother to argue with him, but I think any change to the rural buffer would require an incredible amount of scrutiny. We also talked about NCDs, Carolina North, schools, and regional rail, among other things.

Eventually we were asked to refocus on our vision for Chapel Hill in 10 years. We talked about the need for connectivity, especially between walkable/bikeable places, and also between Chapel Hill and the rest of the Triangle. I mentioned the goal of finding a way to become more dense while still retaining our values and character (I called it "a healthy urban Chapel Hill"), and many were in agreement with that as well.We talked about supporting local businesses, but also recognizing and supporting our connections to the rest of the region.

After an hour of small group discussions, 6 of the 18 (?) small group leaders were asked to report back on their discussions. They seemed to have been selected in advance, and there was no opportunity for other groups to volunteer. There was a lot of overlap among them, which many people took to be a sign of some general consensus. I was a bit disturbed by that since I didn't see much of my own small group's concerns reflected in what I heard.

I know that the group facilitators are now sharing their summaries with the Town staff, but I haven't been able to find out what will happen to them next. I strongly hope that they will be posted online so we can all browse the themes and visions and get more of a sense of the whole. This is especially important since the next meeting will involve working out what the themes of the Comprehensive Plan will be.

A lot of folks remarked on the diversity in the room, and the huge turnout is a clear victory for the organizers and leaders, but some participants also noticed a few gaps. I'd suggest that we could use more people of color, more working-class, more folks not currently or formerly affiliated with UNC, more people with young kids, more people who live in apartments or town homes, more people who don't live in Chapel Hill, and more college students. I will be writing up some thoughts about how we can use the Internet for more engagement with the process as well. I will share that here and with the CH2020 Outreach Committee (of which I am a member).

Please share your stories if you were there, or talk about how we can get you involved if you weren't there last night. I look forward to the next meeting!

As I said in an earlier post, our group seemed pretty diverse. I'm guessing there were about 12 participants: 4 Afrian Americans, 1 person who neither lives nor works in Chapel Hill but who likes the town, a couple of current UNC students, a larger number of recent UNC alumni, a handful of people who live and work in CH but not for UNC, a number who do work for UNC in some shape or form, a retired teacher, a former town employee, one who actively serves on at least one town committee, several lived in Ch their entire lives. Based upon comments people made, I believe a fair number of people rent apartments or houses, probably more own homes. Missing, I think, were parents of very young children, but that's just a guess.Our group did not report at the end of the evening. We tended to get caught up in details and didn't come away with a grand vision. My opinion is that we did agree on some things, e.g., more bicycle paths (pedestrian and bicycle connectivity), public transportation, thriving university & research community, economic diversity, thriving downtown, connecting people to services. There could be more that I forgot.Other items mentioned: more downtown parking (the person who mentioned this also wanted more bike paths), expanding affordable housing program to include apartments, making it easier for people of lesser means to live in CH (economic diversity - property tax relief for people who've lived in CH a long time?), developing up not out, adjust permitting process to make it less expensive and predictable (without lowering standards), equal access to all with regard to town services, building moratorium in Pine Knolls neighborhood was unfair, lower water and sewer bills, develop more IT infrastructure, develop more activites for CH youth, too many deer, celebrate international diversity as well.   


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