I attended a planning board meeting tonight, City of Camden, that was held in the Crammer Hill neighborhood. The meeting was a legal session to take testimony from the planners and from citizens. The planning board was to vote on the plan at the meeting and if approved, send it on to City Council for approval. What transpired was a succession of rookie mistakes in how to bring a community plan forward, how to conduct a public meeting, and how to generate community consensus. In the 1980s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority presented a plan to the Dudley Street Neighborhood and said here is what we are going to do for you as we redevelop your neighborhood. The neighborhood revolted and came up with their own plan, worked with the BRA, and the neighborhood is still doing well today. It is the textbook example of what went wrong, what to do instead, and how good the outcome can be. Apparently the Camden planners missed that class.
Here is some unsolicited insight on how the City of Camden might proceed with their neighborhood planning, how to bring them up for public approval, and what they might get out of the process.
1. the city did a good job in having meetings with the community, focus groups, charettes, and all the other forms of input, dialogue, and citizen involvement. But it was all organized by the city planning staff and their consultants. None of this was citizen led or driven. Buzzzzzzz. 1st mistake.
2. the final version of the plan was finished by the city staff in May, but until tonight, the residents had not seen it. Buzzzzzzzzzz 2nd mistake.
3. the neighborhood is 73% latino. there was no translator nor were any of the materials available in Espan~ol. Buzzzzzzzzzz. 3rd mistake.
4. the city staff and consultants went to great length to assure the residents that no pieces of property on the eminent domain list were occupied, nor would they try to acquire any occupied properties. Eminent domain is a huge issue for residents in Camden and is the cornerstone of most neighborhood organizing against redevelopment. Planning staff just had to make one correction to the plan - 8 properties listed as vacant, but now they find in fact they are occupied. Then during comments, a business owner points out 3 of his properties on the acquisition list but he is using them - so please take them off. Buzzzzzzzz. 4th mistake.
I'd had enough at that point and left the circus.
Here's how this could have gone smoothly, been done in partnership with the community, and had a result that all parties could live with.
1. the presentation of the final plan to a group of 100+ residents should be done by the community group with the staff. Leave your consultants on the sidelines. they have no credibility in the neighborhood. If you don't have a plan that neighborhood leaders will step up and present, then your work is not yet done.
2. the community leaders should make the presentation to the planning board with the staff and consultants. they should have a scripted role to play, not be relegated to the comment line. It's just so demeaning and disingenuous to have your consultant spout about all the public meetings you had while the community leaders are orchestrating people to stand in line to make their statements opposing the plan. If people are adamantly opposed to what you are proposing, then you need to keep working to find an acceptable compromise. Neighborhood is not just a geographical concept. It is social fabric.
3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK - don't come to a legal hearing when you have not checked your occupancy list for a year. You will (and did) get blindsided when people who live and work in the neighborhood on a daily basis point out your errors. You lose all your credibility.
4. Respect your constituency. Don't have your consultant go through all the neighborhood stats, leading off with 73% latino, and then not have a translator or other bilingual preparations. It is insulting.
I'm not trying to be an I told you so, but this stuff is basic planning 101. The city should be embarrassed.