Supplement Feature - April 2008
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Trends in Park Landscaping

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Build Involvement

Getting the community involved with park care and maintenance is a growing national trend, whether it be starting community gardens, developing wildlife space or planning a garden around artwork. However, convincing the community of the importance of taking an active role in park maintenance or development isn't always easy.

PlaceMatters is a Denver, Colo.-based nonprofit organization that believes in informed, equitable and effective citizen engagement. Through the use of novel public engagement processes and emerging technical tools, PlaceMatters enables effective civic decision-making. The organization works to ensure that communities and organizations design and implement processes that garner broad public involvement and support and lead to sustainable, livable communities.

Here are some tips to effective civic involvement:

Solicit public input from the very beginning of a design process. Participants do not want to feel as though they are just signing off on something that is already done. If there are design constraints, make sure they are clear from the beginning, so participants understand the ground rules and where they can and cannot have an impact.

Make sure that participation occurs at every major decision point. No one likes endless meetings, but participants want to know that their input is being considered for each important design decision.

Who you get at the table is at least as important as the participation process. Stakeholders to be targeted include local groups, organizations, local leaders and municipal governments. At the first meeting, ask participants who they think is missing, and reach out to those missing stakeholders for the following meetings. Use tools as appropriate; the Internet opens up participation to many who would otherwise not participate. Use online maps, pictures, plans and surveys to gather feedback.

Make sure all voices are heard. The vocal minority can often drown out others' voices and not allow for equal participation. Keypad polling, which allows participants to vote on options anonymously and see the results immediately, is one effective tool for leveling the playing field.

Participants want to know that their input has made a difference. Be sure to allow participants to see plans at multiple stages as they develop and point out key areas where their input has guided design and will affect implementation.

Plan a way to celebrate the completion of the planning and design process, and after implementation. This helps to foster a sense of ownership and pride in the process and product, as well as build community.