As we’re closing in on the end of 2017, a lot of conversations have naturally started to turn towards what’s coming in 2018.
In making the rounds at various community functions I find myself talking a lot about the work that Council has queued-up for 2018 that will feature extra doses of community conversations, citizen input, and public engagement. It’s becoming clear that community engagement will be the dominant theme of 2018.
Citizen input is always a part of what we do but 2018-19 is shaping up to be one of those “inflection” points that come along every 10 to 15 years when the community is invited to step out of their daily routines and look introspectively at Kent, share candid and personal observations, and help us map out where they want Kent to go over the next 10 years.
That effort will build on a lot of exceptional community planning work that precedes it (if you have never seen these reports, I’ve provided the links to the files if you’d like to read them).
Kent Visions of a New Era http://www.kent360.com/files/
CouncilCommunications/ StrategicPlan/ 1993VisionsOfNewEra1to24.pdf,
Green Enterprise Corridor Plan http://www.kent360.com/
files/CouncilCommunications/ StrategicPlan/ GreenEnterprisePlan1to15.pdf,
Empowerment Zone Strategic Development Plan http://www.kent360.com/
files/CouncilCommunications/ StrategicPlan/ 1994StrategicPlan.pdf
Destination 2006 http://www.kent360.com/files/
CouncilCommunications/ StrategicPlan/Destination2006. pdf
Haymaker Parkway Improvement Plan http://www.kent360.com/
files/CouncilCommunications/ StrategicPlan/ HaymakerParkwayImprovementPlan .pdf
Campus Downtown Connection Study http://www.kent360.com/
files/CouncilCommunications/ StrategicPlan/ UDCCampusLinkImprovements1to22 .pdf
CouncilCommunications/ StrategicPlan/ UDCCampusLinkImprovements23to4 0.pdf
Bicentennial Plan http://www.kentohio.org/
Coming out of an unprecedented era of construction, investment and transformation, many of the boxes on Kent’s Bicentennial bucket list have been checked, so the timing is right for a re-examination of the community’s priorities in the context of Kent in 2018.
Kent’s continued success will depend upon how well we’re able to re-calibrate our community priorities to match where Kent is today after an unprecedented decade of change. We made an impact on many of the longstanding community priorities including downtown Kent, environmental preservation, neighborhood preservation, and collaboration with Kent State University — but the work is never complete and each success brings a new set of challenges.
When we’re at our best, our processes, policies and practices line up, guiding us toward our community goals. As decades pass, community goals can change and the City’s processes, policies and practices should change with them. 2018 is shaping up to be one of those times to gather around the community table and double check to make sure everything is lined-up in the direction the community wants to go, and identify any course corrections that need to be made in order to stay on target.
Course corrections can be disruptive so we don’t want to make them lightly which is why this sort of community planning work is expected to take 18 to 24 months to complete. Achieving community consensus on something as big as the “future of Kent” is going to take time, patience and creativity so my advice is to commit to the long haul with the understanding that there’s no shortcut to community prosperity.
The hope is that we come out the other side of this community process better informed so that we can deploy our resources with greater precision to be a catalyst for the next round of Kent successes — and avoid the traps of falling victim to complacency or failing to stay current as conditions change around us.
We will have 3 major theme areas that will be underway in 2018, all of which are driven by public engagement: 1) OneKent Initiative; 2)Zoning Code/Comprehensive Plan Update; and 3)Neighborhood Enrichment.
I tend to be visually oriented so I here’s a visual graphic that shows how these initiatives are rooted in the Bicentennial Plan and have been active work areas for Council and staff over the last decade — so most of this stuff isn’t new stuff but it will be taking public engagement to a new level.
The initiatives have their own independent action steps but I think if we do this right, they should begin to converge around the answer to “what matter’s most in Kent’s future” and give us a good picture for how Kent would define community prosperity over the next decade.
Here’s a quick run thru of the status of the 3 initiatives as we head into 2018:
1) OneKent Initiative
This new social and cultural inspired initiative will need a budget and staff person to launch in 2018. With the assistance of Council, the staff is looking to invite community members to join the “OneKent leadership advisory team” which would immediately proceed with applying for some of the community designations, e.g., Compassionate City, Age Friendly City, Welcoming City, and developing a plan to roll out the Heart & Soul community conversations. The key to this work will be hiring (or finding a tireless volunteer) to champion this effort and rally the advisory team. Council has stated that the City can help get this effort started but ultimately this initiative needs to be a grass roots effort, not a City led effort.
2) Zoning Code Update (Phase 1) and Comprehensive Plan Update (Phase 2)
We’ve recently seen a couple of stress cracks appear in the foundation of our Zoning Code — which keep in mind was originally written in an era dominated by concerns for divestment in downtown, divestment in neighborhood housing stock, in vacant former industrial properties, and in aging strip malls — so it’s prescriptions were understandably designed to lean slightly in favor of new investment by providing a certain degree of latitude and flexibility in uses and conditions.
Fast forward 20 years and that same Zoning Code is now being asked to be equally effective in an era dominated with concerns for over-investment in certain categories such as student housing and commercial/retail, particularly along the boundaries between zoning districts. Council has been working to patch some of the cracks and reel-back-in a few of those degrees of latitude in favor of more selective and strategic investment prescriptions to better match current perceived community needs.
Patchwork Zoning modifications have helped narrow the gap between Code requirements and public concerns over new projects but the recent court decisions have revealed the limitations of patchwork measures and confirmed the need for a top-to-bottom update of the City’s Zoning Code to create a legally sound framework to make sure community priorities translate into development policies that can withstand legal challenges.
There isn’t a “one size fits all” Zoning Code, it’s a tool that can be used to support a range of community outcomes — and the Zoning Code is not inherently “good” or “bad” but it can be judged by how well it strikes the right balance between private property rights and public interests that fits the times and temper of the community and the facts of law.
Testing the balance point of our Zoning Code will begin in earnest in 2018, and that work will carry us through 2019 as we update the Zoning Code and the City’s Comprehensive Plan after what is expected to include hundreds of hours of public discussions.
The staff have issued an RFQ for professional firms to assist in the Phase I review of the Zoning Code (language “clean-up” phase) and Bridget will be asking the at-large members of Council and the chairs of the Zoning and Planning Commissions to serve in the selection of the firm and as oversight for the Phase I scope of work. There will be multiple public comment sessions in Phase I but the real work of major public engagement will occur in conjunction with Phase 2 which would produce the update of the Bicentennial Plan document in the form of a new Comprehensive Plan. (I’ve been telling people that it’s time to update the Bicentennial Plan but I guess we’ll need to come up with a “catchy” new name for our new Comprehensive Plan since technically our Bicentennial year is 13 years behind us at this point.)
3) Neighborhood Enrichment
We have been operating under the umbrella of Neighborhood Enrichment since 2007 (review the 2007 summary) and there’s a growing list of positive outcomes that have resulted from that effort that specifically focus on improving the quality of life in City neighborhoods. Most of our efforts over the last 10 years has been related to adding tools to our “toolkit” which have improved our ability to more effectively intervene on the neighborhoods’ behalf to manage public nuisances, health hazards, and lifestyle choices that threaten the quality of life enjoyed in City neighborhoods.
We currently have more staff devoted to protecting neighborhoods and more rules in place than ever before. In 2018 we want to couple our resources with building the capacity in the neighborhoods to engage those resources and take greater ownership for the future of their neighborhoods.
We think that stronger neighborhoods make for a stronger community so we have a series of efforts planned to enhance neighborhoods’ identity, sense of place and pride that we hope will translate into more consistent neighborhood engagement, neighborhood planning and neighborhood project opportunities.
Each of these 3 initiatives are on a similar timeline so I’m hopeful that they will cross-pollinate each other with ideas and input. Likewise, I think we also need to be careful about confusion and even burn-out (for volunteers, residents or the staff) from too many similar types of public engagement meetings, so we’ll have to be thoughtful about how we roll these out to make sure we get as wide of a range of public input as possible.
When I look back at our downtown project, we had a general framework that helped us figure out the individual steps that we needed to take along the way without having to anticipate every step at the outset. I was hoping we could apply that same concept to our public engagement plans — where we may not know yet every step along the way but we’re all working from a common frame of reference.
Stay tuned, a lot coming our way in 2018.