Resolve to Get Involved with Chapel Hill 2020 This New Year

January marks Chapel Hill 2020’s fifth month, and if the schedule of planned events is any indication it will its busiest by far. Though there will be no less than seven Chapel Hill 2020 events in the first month of 2012, these events will vary in their style and focus. Participation has been trailing off particularly in the last month or so, but it’s my hope that this plethora of events on different topics will spur people to get out and let their voices be heard.

Five of the events are speeches or “special topic presentations” as the town calls them, and three of those will take place in the next week or so. The first presentation will be held this Thursday, January 5, at 4:30 p.m. in the town council chambers: UNC Professor Emeritus David Godschalk will give a general talk on the importance of comprehensive plan. Immediately afterward at 6:00 p.m., Bill Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine will speak on UNC Health Care, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina and innovation in healthcare. How this specifically relates to the 2020 process is still unclear to me.

On the following Tuesday, January 10, town economic development officer Dwight Bassett will focus on jumpstarting the local economy through retail and housing. The next week demographics, land use and transportation will be the subject of a talk by David Bonk, the long range and transportation planner for Chapel Hill. Bonk will speak on Thursday, January 19 at noon. On Wednesday, January 25, the town will present information on the Carolina North development agreement, and later that day from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. the town’s business management services director, Kenneth Pennoyer, will give an overview of how priority-based budgeting works.

As if those speeches weren’t enough, two other more meeting-focused events are planned for January. First on Thursday, January 12, another round of theme group meetings will take place at Glenwood Elementary School. Though few details have emerged on the event so far, it will most likely follow the format of the previous theme group working sessions. Last but certainly not least, the Innovate 2020 Unconference will be held on Saturday, January 21. The day will kick off at 9:30 a.m. with a keynote address by UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp in Hamilton Hall, Room 100 and will continue with breakout sessions throughout the day in the student union. More details will come in a future post.

Though I’m excited to see such a full and varied calendar of events for Chapel Hill 2020 this month, I do have a few questions and concerns. Why so many events in this particular month? Is there some sort of push to cram everything in before the artificially imposed June deadline? I hope, for one, that the process occurs more organically than that.

Second, though the upside of having many events in a short span of time is that you give people many opportunities to participate, the downside is that the quality of each event sometimes declines with an increasing quantity of events and there can be sense of burnout that depresses later participation. This could be especially problematic as the theme groups head in the direction of starting to truly articulate goals, strategies, objectives, etc. for the next 10 years. While it’s my hope that this increased number of events starts to curb the seeming lack of diversity in the process thus far, this is something we have to watch out for.

Finally, I’d really like to see a change in the way the town distributes information. I’ve been to essentially every Chapel Hill 2020 meeting and event thus far and there seems to be a constant confusion among people as to what exactly is happening when. I’ve been somewhat critical of the process up to this point but I also think the town is doing some wonderful things with Chapel Hill 2020. The failure seems to lie in the town communicating its efforts effectively. People seem to crave advance information on meeting details especially and that’s been particularly hard to come by as of late.

Whatever the case, now is the time to get involved. Though a few of these events are scheduled back to back or in the middle of the day, many will be posted on the town’s website and others will be discussed here on Orange Politics. Stay tuned, especially to the OP Calendar, for all the latest and please share your perspectives on the process so far!

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