Hearing Voices: A New Way to Listen
As Virginia Beach matures and developable land becomes scarce, some land parcels are being redeveloped for new uses. In recognition of this reality, the City Council directed city staff to propose a redevelopment strategy for the Council's consideration. Because the use of land is of central importance to the welfare of the entire community, city staff was directed to engage the public in dialogues related to redevelopment.
Redevelopment is a controversial term. It means different things to different people. Meanwhile, redevelopment is happening. Land uses change over time. Do those changes reflect the preferences of the community? What role should the local government have in effecting these changes? Who better to ask, and respond to, the questions surrounding redevelopment than the citizens of the city?
Public Engagement and Process
Public Voices on Redevelopment is an open process to obtain community-wide views and questions on the creation of a redevelopment strategy for the city. The citizen-based Leadership Team has guided the process to locate diverse views and gather information from a wide variety of citizens. A community discussion was held on Feb. 4 and community-wide dialogues, also called deliberations, took place the during the spring and summer of 2006.
Now that all the dialogues have been held, a report on community input and ideas is being developed and will be made available. The report is expected in the fourth quarter of 2006. The Economic Vitality Strategic Issue Team, a group of city department and division heads, will use the report as it drafts a redevelopment strategy. This Team manages processes that create, enhance and sustain public and private wealth and income in Virginia Beach and the region.
Membership on the citizen-based Leadership Team is open, and citizens can self-select into the process at any time. For more information, please call 385-5042.
Who else is involved with the work?
A city-employee Project Team staffed the Leadership Team. A team from the Virginia Beach Public Library provided extensive research. The city's Economic Vitality Strategic Issue Team was charged with ultimately proposing a redevelopment strategy.
The Project Team hired a contractor, Jerry Alley, to help interview citizens as part of the issue identification stage, to summarize the results of those interviews, and to help write some of the other elements of the project. Mr. Alley is a former reporter and editor for The Virginian-Pilot/Ledger-Star and a former editorial page editor of The Virginia Beach Beacon.
In the interviews, Mr. Alley asked the same basic questions that the Leadership Team had been using. Interviewees represented a wide variety of interests and cross-sections of the community to help ensure that Public Voices did not miss any “voices” for input to the Leadership Team. The Leadership Team, the Project Team and other members of the public provided names for the interviews. Diversity of location, background and interests was the goal for the interviews.
Read All About It: The Use of Readers to Guide Community Conversations
One of the tools that was developed as the community explores redevelopment is a reader, (see Redeveloping Virginia Beach – Who Decides?
), which illustrates key issues and choices and was used to guide community dialogues. Here are several examples of other readers that have been used in communities exploring various land use issues.
Comprehensive Plan Policy Document
The Comprehensive Plan
is the City Council’s official policy for the physical development and overall improvement of the City. It outlines guiding principles and broad strategies for land development and redevelopment, provision of public services and facilities, protection of the environment and open spaces, road improvements, housing, and attracting jobs to the area. Each chapter has a specific focus, such as Strategic Growth Areas, Resort Area, or Citywide elements such as housing.
Building Community Trust and Relationships
Representative government works best in an environment of openly shared information and viewpoints. Vital to its success is mutual understanding and trust among elected officials, citizens and government employees.
In August 1999, the Citizens Communication and Interrelationships Work Group was formed for the purpose of developing recommendations, methods, processes, policies, procedures and training needed to create and maintain active, two-way communication between the City government and Virginia Beach citizens.
Several methods were used to gather citizen input and identify “best practices.” A survey on communications and two focus groups were professionally designed, administered and analyzed. There was also face-to-face discussion and solicitation for input with civic groups, the business community and the City Council. The Work Group also did original research to discover “best practices” from cities across the country.