Shaping Our Towns & Cities

A Citizen Discussion Project

Why do we live where we live? Why are our communities, our towns and cities, shaped the ways they are? What might the future hold in store for our towns and cities? What forces are shaping them–and how could these forces be altered or re-directed? What are some different visions for the future of our communities? What’s your vision of what it takes to be a really good community, a good town or city to live in, a good place to call “home”? Shaping Our Towns & Cities is an extended discussion project that will explore questions like these–and will develop different possible ways our society might respond to them. (To find out more of the details of how this kind of discussion project works, check the entries under the About section of this website at the menu tab above or at the links to the left of this screen).

We often tend to think of the development of our communities, of our towns and cities, as something that just happens. It’s just the way things are. Or we think of these decisions about land use, about housing and workplace development, about transportation and roadways, about the development of industrial or shopping space, as decisions that are too complex for us as average citizens. Yet these decisions hit us where we live.  They affect what we think of as “home” and how we are able to live our lives. These are public policy choices that will impact our pocketbooks and our quality of life.  This is a chance for you, as a citizen, to explore these issues rather than leaving them to others.

Thinking Ahead About What Could Be

Often when we talk about “urban” or “community development,” we’re focused on particular projects (should this stadium be built, or should this land be zoned for this kind of development?).  The discussions in this project are an opportunity to step back from that kind of a narrow focus so you can explore the issues more broadly. It’s also a chance to explore the connections among various factors that shape the places where we live.  It’s a chance for you to think about the different reasons that might lead to different choices about the shape of our towns and cities.

This is also a chance to stretch your mind to think about the future rather than just responding to what is currently in front of us. In the past, technological advances such as the automobile, refrigeration, or air-conditioning, changed patterns of development. What technical changes might shape our future patterns of development? As our society changes, as our economy changes, as our work lives change, as our patterns of moving around or settling down change—how might the shape of our towns and cities change as well?

This is an opportunity to come together with a group of your fellow citizens to explore the different paths opened up by all these questions. Working together, you’ll develop different approaches our society might take to respond to them.  The goal is to sketch out some different public policy possibilities that might shape the places where we live–and then to hand these off to other citizens to help them develop their own thinking about these topics.

A Few Logistical Details

  • This project will run through roughly a year of monthly discussion sessions. Each meeting will tend to run for a few hours and will typically include refreshments and/or a meal. We are looking to start in spring 2010.
  • There will be 2 panels, each with 6-8 participants, one of general citizens who are simply interested in talking with each other about the topic and one made up of citizens with more specialized perspectives on the topic. The 2 panels meet as a joint panel at the end of the project to share their work.
  • Meeting venues will be chosen in part to make participation accessible to where the panelists live. It is likely that the specialist panel will meet in DC and the generalist panel will meet in the northern Virginia suburbs.
  • The main cost to panelists is their thoughtful and collaborative participation in the discussion sessions. There is some support for modest transportation costs to and from sessions and there is a modest honorarium for panelists who complete the project.
  • Previous panelists say the main reward is the satisfaction in engaging in a vibrant discussion community with fellow citizens. They say they enjoyed the chance to engage in calm and collaborative discussions that are truly “additive”–trying to build something new, trying to make new discoveries, rather than just arguing. They also enjoy the chance to discuss complex issues without blinders and to follow out connections that they might not otherwise have discovered without the help of their colleagues.

Contact

  • If you’re interested in taking part on either panel, please feel free to contact me via email at prudhomme [AT] interactivityfoundation [DOT] org.
  • If you know someone who might be interested in participating on either panel, please feel free to share this information with them.

–Jeff Prudhomme

6 responses to “Shaping Our Towns & Cities

  1. Our Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement is just starting a project to do “visioning” related to the transportation/land use future for Virginia Beach. We are also working with the local public television organization to consider a regional visioning process.

    My daughter, Keally McBride (U of SF) sent me your email.

    Betsy McBride

    • Betsy, That’s great to hear. I’d love to hear more about how you’ll approach this “visioning” process. Seems like vital part of the community thinking ahead about its many values in terms of the shape of the community to come. Glad to hear that the local public tv will be involved. Too bad we are not a little closer, but it will be good if I can follow some of the issues that come up for you. Is there a website, by the way, for your Center for Civic Engagement? Nice of Keally to have passed this along! –Jeff

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  4. Yes, sounds very interesting and relevant, I’d love to participate.
    (Thursdays are bad for me through Oct 14)

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