As part of a team retained to develop a master plan for the Freight Street District in the City of Waterbury, CT, we were tasked with coming up with a way to collect public input related to the findings of our real estate market analysis. Now, real estate market studies are not nearly as sexy as the colorful land use plans and 3D flyovers that our partners get to present at these types of meetings. Just check out this great video our partners at Milone & MacBroom made for the public meeting to see what I mean.
But, before we could make final recommendations to our team and the City about the market and redevelopment opportunities for this area, we needed to hear from the community. It was our opportunity to test the political feasibility of the market-based redevelopment opportunities identified in the research. This step is always important because even if a project is market and financially feasible, it cannot be truly successful if the community is not behind it.
The plan for the design workshop was to kick things off with a brief presentation summarizing the team’s findings and then invite participants to visit about six different stations set up around the room. We use this format often as it allows participants to move at their own pace in a light, carnival-like atmosphere and spend time where they are most interested. Other stations covered transportation and infrastructure, site layout, environment, etc.
The concept was simple: ask people which uses they would be willing to fight for with their own political capital.
Our station was purposefully minimalistic and designed to spark discussions among participants. To get people talking, we used the old planning trick ‘voting’ with stickers. The board listed potential redevelopment uses for the Freight Street District along the left side and had two columns for input. First, we asked participants to consider each use and indicate if they thought the Waterbury community would welcome that type of development. Then, we asked about which uses they themselves would be willing to support. You’ll notice we also left space for new uses to be added in case we overlooked any. Our ‘facilitator’ was there to answer questions about the research, inject questions into the free-flowing dialog, and – most importantly – listen.
Here’s what the board looked like after the meeting:
Is it statistically significant?
No, of course not. But, this exercise did help our team make some decisions about which direction to go with the master plan. We also learned that the community is really excited about the redevelopment of this area and open to a wide range of uses – no NIMBYs here!