Assistant Research Scientist, Texas A&M Transportation Institute
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I started with Morris Communications in Portland, Maine. I was an English major, with a knack for writing, so after I graduated I took this job as my primary role was producing meeting minutes. I was immediately interested in the field and planning and public engagement and my role with MC grew from taking meeting minutes, to being involved in all aspects of the P2 process, as well as the planning activities for the projects we worked on.
I went to graduate school at the University of Texas, Austin, to earn my masters in Urban Planning and when I went to TTI, I found a mix of planning and applied P2. At TTI, we conduct research that improves the state of the practice for P2 by allowing us to test innovative methods in the field. This includes developing and testing performance measures for P2 and incorporating more technology into public involvement processes.
One example was a virtual open house we designed for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), where we used a live chat feature to replicate the experience of an in person public meeting in a virtual setting.
What was the state of P2 when you first arrived in Texas?
When I moved there five years ago, I was curious to see whether the culture of public involvement would be different from the Northeast. The transportation agencies in Central Texas were doing a lot of work, as the region is growing rapidly. The challenge in Central Texas, which I found was not unique to this area, was bringing together the many different interests throughout the region.
Earlier this month, the Greater Los Angeles Chapter held its inaugural training event, attracting over forty planners and government staff as well as P2 practitioners. After a brief presentation describing his methodology, James Rojas, Founder of Place It! and Co-Founder of the Latino Urban Forum, guided attendees into the substance of his workshop. Attendees gathered around tables piled high with colorful, enticing materials first turning their favorite childhood memories, then their dreams for a sustainable Los Angeles, into art. As participants shared their childhood memories, their storhighlighted the similarities among all of us.
“Building” a sustainable Los Angeles out of art material is where participants become meaningful contributors to the plan for their region. James says, “Everyone is an urban planner in their heart and it’s our job to create a safe space for participants to reveal, respect, and translate their knowledge and experiences into the city building process.”
The training proved to be a big draw for the Greater Los Angeles chapter’s membership, breaking all records for Chapter meeting attendees. Kit Cole, Chapter President and IAP2 USA Board Member, commented, “There is a big appetite for skill development in the region, not only among P2 professionals but for others whose jobs are increasingly requiring them to exercise public engagement tactics.”
Since the Los Angeles Chapter started in 2015, the group has focused on building awareness of P2 in general and building the IAP2 brand specifically. Training is now the next step in the LA Chapter’s plan for increasing professionalism across the practice in Southern California.
Wendy Nowak of Placeworks, host of the October event, is working to meet a parallel demand for training in Orange County where she is starting an Orange County chapter for IAP2 USA. She and Kit are coordinating for future training events to meet the escalating desire for public engagement skills in the region.
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