Here’s what a REAL urban rail public involvement planning meeting looks like10 January 2014
While Project Connect has been doubling down in its determination to squelch true public involvement (and substituting a process of rigidly controlled public manipulation portrayed as “community input”), a recent community meeting in the Minneapolis area gives an idea of what bona fide public involvement should look like (see lead photo, above).
The focus was the Southwest Light Rail Transit plan proposed by Minneapolis’s Metropolitan Council. About 14 miles long, connecting downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul with the suburban community of Eden Prairie, the line would be (after the Central Corridor project now under way) the next major extension of the metro area’s highly successful Hiawatha light rail line (named after a major highway corridor it uses for much of its route).
On January 8th, as reported by an article in the mostly online MinnPost, over 200 people filled the gym of a large recreation center (as shown above) to discuss and debate the project. Unlike Project Connect’s charade of “public participation” (where “meetings” consist of either personal one-on-one conversations with official representatives, or “opportunities” to approve predetermined choices with clickers), the Minneapolis event provides an example of a real community meeting, where participants were actually able to ask questions, voice comments, raise alternative approaches, and maybe come up with ideas and options the official planners hadn’t considered.
That’s the kind of robust community involvement process that in the past was typical here in Austin, until roughly a decade ago.
Project Connect, keeping its advisory committees in a kind of bell jar, and keeping itself in a virtual underground bunker, isolated from authentic public oversight, has been making extremely dubious decisions — including rigging a phony “Central Corridor” plan for “high-capacity transit” based in part on fantasy data.
In continuing to isolate and insulate itself from bona fide community involvement and oversight, it’s highly likely that Project Connect will continue to fashion plans that ignore authentic community needs, misplace resources, and squander taxpayers’ money. Provoking public disgust and anger — even among strong public transportation supporters — is surely not a prudent strategy for building a voting constituency for major rail transit projects.
“Stakeholders” cannot feel they have much “stake” when they’re excluded and manipulated. Will some members within Austin’s civic leadership have the strength and fortitude to recognize this, and demand an open, fully democratic, and authentic community involvement process?