Chapel Hill 2020: Ambiguity Moving Forward

          On October 6, 2011, approximately 200 members of the community gathered at East Chapel Hill High School to participate in a “stakeholder meeting,” the second scheduled event in a series of events associated with the drafting of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive plan. Equipped with high-tech voting devices and packets outlining the various proposed mission statements and themes for the plan, citizens expressed both support and concerns alike through the press of a button.

Some, myself included, left feeling a sense of disappointment that citizens in attendance had been given little opportunity to verbally articulate their frustrations in any sort of forum-like fashion. Even more, I asked myself what each of the plan’s proposed provisions really encompassed. As a student of sociology and activist for marginalized people, the ambiguity and overtly positive spin on the plan is worrisome.

In all fairness to the Chapel Hill 2020 planning committee, the lobby of the school was turned into a physical forum where in which citizens were encouraged to post, via post-it note, concerns, thoughts, and additions to large prints of the various “theme” areas and proposed mission statements under discussion. Under each theme’s banner, words aggregated from the previous 2020 kickoff meeting were displayed in color and shed some glimmer of light onto what citizens feel these broad areas should focus on.

In greeting the crowd, George Cianciolo emphasized the importance of community participation in the planning process.

“Themes are areas we think people will be working in as we go forward,” Cianciolo said. “This is a process that is going to be continuously evolving…But, it is important to remember that this is a draft. We need you to continue to send us your thoughts and comments.”

But, what was missed on Thursday was a real interchange of ideas and perspectives. With a majority of the scheduled 2020 meetings set for week-day evenings, I wonder if the entire community is really getting its fair shot at contributing to the process. As a student, I certainly would not have heard Cianciolo’s rallying cry for participation from the hustle-and-bustle of UNC-CH’s Davis Library.

Surely, the working men and women with children at home are disadvantaged in this contribution process. Many certainly struggle to find the time in the evenings away from work to attend these events. As a result, the current themes sadly mirror the lack of diversity present. What’s worse is that many of the themes are too vague to draw real conclusions about whom or what each affects.

For an example, the language of one of the themes (focusing on issues of diversity) really fails to articulate what the tangible focus will be. The seventh of eight themes, with 23 percent of the audience expressing minor concerns during a live voting session Thursday, reads:

“A place for everyone: public safety and diversity (youth, teens, safe places, a  welcoming community)”

         Sure, everyone wants to say they live in a “welcoming community.” But, in truth, what does this mean from the perspective of the future Town Council? Who defines what “welcoming” looks like and what can the Council do to force communities to begin to welcome and work with one another when issues of class status and race are so closely linked?

         Where is textual reference to communities of color? Where was the language about human rights, the LGBTIQ community, and women? There was none, explicitly at least.

         The themes use language throughout that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. What is a “safe place?” What is an “asset,” and who in this process defines what is deemed valuable in our community?

         My hope is that, as the planning meetings continue and the process moves forward towards a workable draft, more citizen stakeholders will have the chance to directly comment on the plan. But, this might require leaders heading out into the community in a more comprehensive and creative sense.

        The current text, while highlighting broad areas of concern, says little about the programmatic direction the Town Council will (or should) take. And, in the end, we are left with a fluffy rough draft of articulated hope and positivity with little grit or honesty about the problems we face. I am eager to see how the plan will take shape in the weeks to come. I want to know what will be said (or not said) about the disadvantaged communities in Chapel Hill with low rates of participation who, perhaps in truth, have the most at stake in this process.  

Total votes: 93

Comments

Burton,You stated " My hope
is that, as the planning meetings continue and the process moves forward
towards a workable draft, more citizen stakeholders will have the chance to
directly comment on the plan."That is our intent for Chapel Hill 2020.  There is no way that I think we, those who are trying to get this process going, or anyone else for that matter, could manage to come up with theme names that would adequately convey all of the varied interests and concerns of our reasonably diverse Chapel Hill population.  The descriptors we included for each of the draft themes were not meant to be either final or exclusive.  The working groups that form around each theme area will decide what they want to work on and what their agenda will look like.  So there is still plenty of time to identify groups that we have missed, groups that are missing from the table, and try to reach out to them and get them involved.Chapel Hill 2020 has an Outreach Committee whose charge is specifically to try to do that.  But sometimes we need a little help in the way of specific suggestions of folks we might contact who can help bring these other people into the process.  We understand that no matter what time we choose it will be inconvenient for someone so we have tried to vary our times.  The next event, the Community Open House at UMall is on Saturday, October 22, 11AM-3PM.  The first Stakeholder Key Theme worksession, on October 27th,  is 4:30PM-6:30 PM at Ephesus Elementary School.  And if these attempts at bringing as much diversity into the process don't work, Rosemary and I and the Outreach Committee have all volunteered to go out and meet groups - in their living rooms, in the community parks or clubhouses, in their places or worship, in their dorms or classrooms - wherever.We are trying - but we need concerned citizens like yourself to not only recognize the problem but to try to help us solve it.Burton, you also stated "I am eager to see how the
plan will take shape in the weeks to come."The working groups that will take shape on October 27th will be working on developing their plans not over a matter of weeks, but more like over a matter of 6 months or so.  And during that time the working groups will all come together on a regular basis to inform the other groups both where they are in the process and where they see themselves going.  In that way groups will not independently develop plans that might conflict with or not support the plans being developed by the other groups.Hope this helps make things a little clearer.

 

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