Wednesday, June 04, 2014

While Metro Planning trains neighborhood leaders, in other places neighborhood leaders do the training

For all of its hype, Metro Planning's attempt at developing a community-influenced county-wide plan, called "NashvilleNext", has always felt like a do-over to me. Years ago when we worked producing community plans (like North Nashville's) it seemed like Planning Director Rick Bernhardt was attempting to involve the community. I have never understood the reason for leaving behind the community plans that many of us gave a great deal of time and energy to develop.

When the planner in the NashvilleNext video below talks about how she and others have worked the past year with community meetings to bring us to the current NashvilleNext plan, I'm left with the sense that if they can so easily replace our community plans with NashvilleNext blueprints based on gimmicks like post-it notes and spinning wheels, why can't they just abandon the NashvilleNext plan behind once it is written? Sticky notes are easily misplaced.

And what troubles me deeply about video on the NashvilleNext plan is that community leaders have to be trained to be "better engaged". Leaders are already by definition plugged in, aren't they? Rather than finding out from leaders what they need, it seems like Bernhardt's department is doing a total about face.


Compare Metro's classroom-style treatment of neighborhood leaders to a neighborhoods conference recently held in Oregon, where neighborhood leaders trained other neighborhood leaders.

The risk of simply allowing Metro government officials to "train" Nashville's neighborhood leaders is that the expectations of the latter may not be effectively communicated to the former. The power equation causes government leaders to manage the expectations of neighborhoods rather than respond to them with good service. Neighbors are more than trainees, and planners should approach them with their own open, teachable hearts.

UPDATE: The Nashville Civic Design Center did not mean to say only what appeared in their Twitter stream about Metro Planning's intentions in NashvilleNext "trainings," but part of the problem of feeding Twitter their messages from other social media applications is that the 140 character tweet truncates and distorts the message. The casual observer scanning their Twitter feed might be left with the impression that, again, planners are educating the community about themselves:

While a purely innocent in intention, the tweet does communicate a flawed message.


  1. As a participant in several of the Metro Planning Department's community planning meetings, I have come to the conclusion that they are nothing more than very expensive dog-and-pony shows to give the illusion that the citizens actually give input that is valued. I took careful notes during a community UDO session of meetings. Week after week, what the citizens had suggested the week before was barely seen in the plan that had been developed the following week. The sticky notes were ignored. Participants were asked to fill out papers to leave their input as they left the meeting. No one knew what ideas that others left. All you knew was that your idea was not incorporated at all and after conversations with others their ideas were not included either. I really think that the meetings are meant to give the illusion that the citizens actually recommended the plan that the Planning Department privately developed prior to the meetings. It is quite obvious that Bernhardt, developers and other influential people are the men behind the curtain making the real plans.

  2. The word 'training' is misused perhaps. Let us recognize that government officials are pretty much like the resy of us when performing a job. We bring some expertise and learn most of our skills while on the job.
    City planning is currently being turned on its head as a result of our climate challenges, economic recession and widespread re-evaluation of planning principles of the past which relied too heavily on cheap automobile transportation.
    Perhaps the term we should use is 'collaborate' because in the past the planning and execution process was driven primarily by the engine of land developers who supplied housing. We accepted this and only got involved when development conflicted with our general well being.
    Collaboration involves both contribution and a chance to learn about the newest strategies which may avail our future with fewer conflicts of unplanned development.

  3. Tom - I'm open to you saying your job is difficult. I get it, cut you some slack.

    But, please, keep the "climate change" b.s. excuse out of the discussion. I don't intend to debate the merits of climate change, just the merit of using it as an excuse a humble-jumble of a planning process.