Dream, Play, Build: Hands-On Community Engagement for Enduring Spaces and Places

We love our communities. We want them to become safer, healthier, more prosperous places. But the standard approach to public meetings and community engagement somehow makes everyone miserable. Conversations that should inspire us become shouting matches. So what would it look like to facilitate truly meaningful discussions between citizens and planners? What if they could be fun?
Authors James Rojas and John Kamp have been changing the norm on community meetings for 20 years. In March, America Walks was honored to have them share their expertise.

Place It!: Making Community Meetings Fun

Their unique approach, called “Place It!,” encourages members of the community to use multiple forms of communication, rather than relying on public speaking alone. Place It! is “a design- and participation-based urban planning practice,” according to their website. Both Rojas and Kamp have seen their share of community meetings go south. We all have. But using their shared backgrounds in the arts, urban planning, and community engagement, they’ve found another way.

Caring Loudly

There’s a scene in NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation” that has now become famous among civically-engaged folks. It takes place in the pilot episode, when Deputy Director Leslie Knope explains her views on community meetings. “These people are members of the community that care about where they live,” she explains. “So what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.
This idea — that when people are yelling in a community meeting, they’re just very passionate — is a hard one to remember, especially when someone is shouting at you about parking, traffic, or housing. But according to Kamp, it’s true. It’s also hardwired into us. “When we use language alone to engage people around these issues in the public meeting setting, it really favors a certain kind of person who is willing to stand up and speak,” explained Kamp during our recent webinar.  How can we engage with our communities without using language alone? Kamp and his partner, James Rojas have the answer. Watch the webinar to learn more.