Cambridge, Mass., is changing the way it engages citizens.
Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.
When city government plans new projects, whether it’s building waterfront infrastructure or creating recycling policy, public consultation meetings are a standard step in the process.
They give citizens a chance to provide their input, offer thoughts on their wants and needs, and it can help the municipal braintrust avoid problems before they arise.
Toronto is no stranger to public consultations. There are six consultations this month alone. But how can cities be sure that they are getting feedback that’s representative of the population?
Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard, MIT and a whole lot of corporate eggheadery, is working on a new master plan that will tackle land use, zoning, environment, mobility and more. And it is working hard to ensure more local residents than ever are involved in the process.
The public is invited not only to attend consultation workshops, but to help shape what those workshops look like.
Engagement meetings are being enhanced with childcare, catering and translation services. Focus groups are being assembled for Cambridge’s black, Hispanic, Arabic, Chinese, Haitian, Somalian, Ethiopian and Bangladeshi communities.
A “mobile engagement station” is bringing community engagement to residents each weekend with pop-up kiosks, 3D city models, and imaginative, interactive tools that include stools shaped like local neighbourhoods.
And Cambridge officials have even published a newspaper called The Planner, to hand out to the public at pop-up kiosks and at city meetings. The Planner tells stories about local history, city design, and new arrivals to Cambridge.
Reaching out to a city of 107,000 residents sure is easier than trying to gage the needs and wants of big ol’, 3 million-ish person Toronto.
But the principle and the challenges are the same: the future of our city should be the product of a collaboration between the upper ranks of city government and the average citizens of various backgrounds, tastes and idiosyncrasies.