What grade would you give our civic leaders for citizen engagement on the Parks Master Plan?

Lashbrook Park Ames Park

Significant citizen opposition to an already-approved archery range at Lashbrook Park and an already-approved skateboard plaza at Ames Park has surfaced. An April 30  Nfld News editorial ends with this:

“… why does there continue to be opposition each time the plan is invoked and a project is approved by the board? Residents opposing changes in a neighborhood park’s use need to get involved earlier in the process. And, assuming that opposition is most likely to come from those living nearby, maybe the city should more aggressively seek out their input up front.”

The Public involvement section of the Parks Master Plan (table of contents) says:

Given the considerable public interest in parks, open space, and trails, the Northfield City Council and PRAB placed high value on extensive citizen involvement in the project. Through formal and informal meetings and open houses, individual citizens and advocacy groups had direct access to the consultant team and PRAB on numerous occasions. The comments and suggestions received from these interactions proved very fruitful and greatly influenced the development of the plan.

The “citizen involvement” cited above by the consultants, Brauer & Associates, Ltd., isn’t described in detail but here’s what’s bothering me about it:

  • There’s no link to the Parks System Master Plan on the city’s web site Parks page.
  • There’s no link to the Parks System Master Plan on the web page for the Parks and Rec Advisory Board (PRAB).
  • A search on the city’s website for the phrase “Parks System Master Plan” doesn’t bring it up. Only the Locally Grown Documents page has a link to the Parks System Master Plan.
  • A search on the city’s website on the word ‘Lashbrook’ only brings up 2000 Comp plan. A search on the word ‘archery’ brings up nothing.
  • I can’t find any report or minutes on the Open House that was held. If City Administator Al Roder wrote about it in one of his Friday memos, I can’t find it.
  • Ross blogged the Parks Plan back in January. No one from the city staff or Parks and Rec Advisory Board (PRAB) participated.
  • Who are the city staff most involved with Parks that a citizen could email or phone? The city’s web site offers zilch.

I moderated a two-week online forum on the Parks Master Plan in the fall of 1997 and another on the Trails Master Plan in 1998. So here we are, a decade later, and our civic leaders and their consultants are barely using the technology that pervades our lives to ‘engage the citizenry’ on important public policy issues like the Parks plan.

Other than the one open house, I don’t know the specifics on all the “extensive citizen involvement” that was done. But when it comes to online engagement, I’d have to give our civic leaders a big fat ‘F.’

8 thoughts on “What grade would you give our civic leaders for citizen engagement on the Parks Master Plan?”

  1. Griff,

    For a long time I’ve accessed the Parks Plan by going to the city’s home page and clicking on the Park Master Plan link in the “Current Projects” table in the upper right hand of the page.

    There’s also a page called “Projects” that can be accessed by clicking on “more” in the “Current Projects” table.

    I’ve probably followed this plan closer than most because the Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation, on which I served as chair, reported to the Park Board and the city’s bikeway and greenway plans are part of the plan. The Task Force endorsed the trail/bikeway/walkway/greenway part of the plan, though there were some changes we recommended that the consultant and the city did not make.

    The consultant did meet with many groups last summer (two to three dozen, I think), including myself as the task force representative and with Mill Towns Trail advocates.

    I agree that many times documents are too hard to find, and that goes for many web sites. Often a search via a search engine such as Google is more helpful than searching on a web site’s search apparatus. In fact I just entered “Northfield Park master plan” into Google and it took me right there.

    Brian Erickson and Joel Walinski are probably the two staff members most knowledgeable about the plan.

  2. There were actually a lot of citizen input meetings, last summer, during the development of the new Parks master Plan. They were very intensive and patient interviews; I thought the consultant did a really fine job. The consultant’s presentation at the Open House was also very thoughtful, and very concerned with environmental issues.

    The one thing I would question is why the whole thing had to be redone, when we had a Parks Master Plan done by Hoisington Koegler in about 1999-2000. The current plan was developed around a more holistic concept, stemming from Spencer Jones’s Greenways concept, but there were wonderful designs in the HK plan, not yet implemented, that are still totally valid. An example: the contemplative “moon pool” area for the northern end of Lashbrook.

    I asked Joel Walinski about the HK plan/ Lashbrook pool last year, and he knew nothing about it; another instance of no “institutional memory” when there are staff changes.
    Not Joel’s fault, but definitely a process fault.

  3. Almost all of Griff’s comment RE: the city’s Web site and the lack of info is accurate … but I do not believe the LASHBROOK deal has been APPROVED by the PARK Board … yet … and I do believe it is being worked on by PARB as we speak.

    But, there’s more…

    After virtual newspaper silence forever on this topic, two weeks ago in an April 30, Editorial, The Northfield News proclaims:

    “Opposition to an archery range in Lashbrook Park …. has been pouring in” ….

    Then goes on to explain their back story … how, proponents of the Archery concept:

    “sought permission from the city to construct a 100-yard by 150-yard range in (Lashbrook) the 11-acre park.”

    Some citizens eventually learned, this was the outcome of the request of an archery group and the review of the Park Board’s consultant … and WAS brought forward to the public at an Open House on the Parks Master Plan earlier this winter.

    It seems the consultant said (Nfld News 4/30/08) …

    “Lashbrook was of adequate size to accommodate the range while still leaving enough space to develop a park.”

    But, the News included no comment on the initial vision of the park (a grassland) and the lengthy public process and public funding to realize the vision, truly a unique park space … that has only recently become fully developed into the glorious grassy prarie-like ambiance on Northfield’s NW side.

    “PARB has considered approval of locating the range in Lashbrook… and this concept was presented at the Open House.

    Then, the News says: “the furor began.”

    I’d speculate (perhaps to Griff’s disappointment) most citizens still get what information they do get locally … from the newspaper … not the internet. What’s more egregious here than the suffering web site is the On the Spot news as reported (or not) in the News.

    In the April 30 Editorial, the News takes exception to those whose passionate voices have raised a “furor” pointing out:

    “This is the second time there has been public outcry after the board [had] approved … a specific use.” in both instances, the Parks Board followed the guidelines” … and the News added: “The creation [the] plan, while not yet approved, came after numerous public hearings … where residents were allowed to give input, “ etc.

    Then the News nails it with 2¢ on citizen involvement:

    “why [they ask] does there continue to be opposition each time the plan is invoked … a project … approved?”

    AND finally,

    “Residents opposing changes … need to get involved earlier in the process.”

    So, it appears the News is blaming citizens who spoke out against the Archery Range at the open mic last week. Those same citizens are rebuked in the press because they didn’t come forward earlier! Duh!

    Then adds: “comments the News has received from other citizens opposed to the change, are also speaking “too late” arguing in effect, isn’t that what Public Hearings are about?”

    CONTEXT:

    Recently a city councilor publicly chastised the News for inadequate journalism. I’m not sure specifically what he meant, but it seems, at least some besides myself are openly dissatisfied with the quality of the news . Is it morphed? Poorly written? Out of context, misleading? Incomplete? All of the above and more? Or, what?

    You decide. In a scan of the News’ archives, going back six months, using search terms: “archery Lashbrook” I pulled up just six News events.

    Two, dated April 25, ’08 … Two dated April 30 … (the day of the Editorial) along with two letters from citizens, one April 26 and another, April 30. All these it seems the result of the citizen outcry at the open mic … NOT REPORTING in the N. News.

    Evidently no wasted ink or effort here … and to my knowledge, NO report on the PARB master plan open house last winter … at last referencing Archery!

    Evidently, following the PARB Master Plan Open House, the News didn’t pick up this story until it became controversial.

    Forget the Web site Griff. Ask, why didn’t the News write contemporaneously, of the current threat to Lashbrook Park’s identity?

    The News, if it is to be successful, must provide better, earlier, more complete and objective reporting.

    The blogs after-all are mere rant from the likes of you and me … and perhaps should not even be taken as “accurate”.

    Now, for the News, as to accuracy and objectivity … that’s (supposed to be) a different story.

    Other than meaningfully informative communication … other than that as a minimum in reporting, how are the citizens expected to know enough to ask questions?

    Don’t blame the passionate citizens by referencing their concern as “furor” Just do your job …

  4. This week the PRAB reversed its decision and voted 5-0 to find a new site for the archery range, according to a story in today’s Nfld News.

    Fifteen of the 20 who spoke about the proposal opposed the plan. Most were nearby residents who said they had no notice that the range was planned for the park and feared that mowing the tall prairie grasses would forever alter the site, wipe out native flowers and oust birds and animals who live among the stalks. Park board chair Rick Vanasek acknowledged that while notice of the master plan was publicized, no specific notice was given area residents. Each board member said more park land than they envisioned would have gone to the range.

  5. So maybe now the opponents of the skate plaza in Ames Park should take heart: organize a demonstration, show up en masse at at PRAB meeting, and use the same argument that “no specific notice was given to area residents” and, of course, downtown businesses.

    I still support having the skate plaza at Ames, but my point is, the process of public engagement is not working as it should.

    Kiffi and Bill, I contend that it’s just not enough anymore to have ‘public input’ meetings with groups of citizens while a plan is first being developed, and then ignore the rest of the citizenry once a draft is in place.

  6. I was at the Park Board meeting last night and heard much of the discussion about Lashbrook. I also live very near Lashbrook Park.

    I agree with you, Griff. It’s important that elected officials and staff not be too defensive when this kind of opposition arises. Though opposition can be frustrating for those involved when a project has been long in the works, the public must still be informed and heard from. In this case, residents should have been sent mailings of the kind that they receive when there is new road construction or housing development.

    It was an impressive array of speakers and residents who showed up. The paper didn’t mention this, but Char Carlson spoke; she said she was on the Park Board for 20 years (1978-98, I believe) and was chair for many of those years. She and others explained the history of the park and the lack of completion of its plan (adding a kid’s play area, a reflective pool, etc.). Someone also suggested that the park be called “Lashbrook Prairie Park” to make sure that its character is preserved and understood.

    Many people agreed the archery range was much larger than they had first understood. I saw a map from the archery folks and was surprised myself at its size.

    I’m glad so many people turned out and that the range will be located elsewhere. I’m also glad that this natural park has so many champions. It is a wonderful park and I encourage people to visit and walk through it.

  7. I would agree , Griff, that the “rest of the citizenry once the draft is in place” should NOT be ignored. But there was notice …maybe not enough notice … of the consultants presentation of the master Park plan. There was virtually no one there!. So … either the notice was not adequately delivered, or it was a winter evening and no one wanted to go out again, or whatever.

    I do think what was painfully obvious in this Lashbrook/ Archery “deal”, is that the specific people who should have been noticed were not, and the changing of the Nature of the park (no pun intended) was not thoroughly explored, and from what I heard at meetings I was at, the extent of the size of the archery range was not clear.

    I am very glad that the PARB was responsive enough to realize they had to reverse their decision.

    Now let’s get that beautiful reflective pool built instead.

    A big Thank You to all the people who worked to preserve this prairie park for its original intended purpose.

  8. On changing your mind … RE: Lashbrook Park.

    Griff Wrote:

    “[opponents of the skate plaza in Ames Park should take heart: organize a demonstration, show up en masse at at PRAB meeting, and use the same argument that “no specific notice was given to area residents” ]”

    Apples and oranges Griff. Which residents were not notified of the Ames Park plan? The Ducks or the fishermen? Oh.. the geese!

    Were you against the citizens opposing war in Iraq speaking out… on the basis, “it was a done deal” and as such, sanctioned by the government?

    The public, has/was … never notified by mail or by newspaper article of the plan to mow down the commemorative grasses in Lashbrook.

    At the winter Master Park Plan open house, archery was mentioned. Few were in attendance to that meeting … a dozen or so … and the subsequent press coverage of that meeting didn’t mention bows and arrows.

    In fact, it wasn’t until citizens went to the open Mic in late April that the News covered it, AT ALL … and then as I recall, editorialized the citizens were (again) speaking out too late. A search of the News archives using search terms: Lashbrook and Archery — supports that conclusion. Nada!

    Evidently the News didn’t feel all the citizen thought, work and fund raising … years ago, to create the park was relevant to the question. Now the PARB does!

    Interestingly enough, my information is that those who spoke at the open mic were informed of the plan by an archer. Don’t ask!

    What’s really good here is the manner in which the PARB responded to the outcry.

    PARB ROCKS!

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