Residents give input on ‘community choices’

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Residents participate in the city's "Community Choices" planning session Nov. 5. Photo courtesy of Katie Gerbes

BY BEN SIMASEK — On Saturday, Nov. 5, the City of Hyattsville held an open-house style meeting with city planners and local residents at the Municipal Building. This was the second community workshop held with the goal of gathering input from community members on several key issues to inform the city’s sustainability plan.

These workshops were organized as a follow-up step to three public engagement meetings held during September. At these meetings, residents identified concerns and shared their opinions and ideas on issues ranging from how to foster more integration and interaction among Hyattsville’s diverse residents to what kinds of local business development the city should pursue to improving transportation options for cyclists and pedestrians.  

The open house started with a presentation of all of the ideas gathered from the September meetings and then transitioned to a “gallery” style presentation, during which attendees spent an hour cycling through seven stations. Each station covered a different topic and provided the opportunity for community members to answer a variety of questions and share their ideas on each topic by placing sticky notes on the spaces provided. Some stations provided residents the opportunity for ranked voting on priorities or preferences by placing numbered stickers. Others featured maps of Hyattsville, on which people placed stickers to identify areas apt for redevelopment or improved transportation infrastructure. One of the stations gave residents the chance to rank which of twelve broad planning principles should guide the city’s vision for development.

Katie Gerbes, the community planner who coordinated these interactive community engagement efforts, said she has been pleased with the reception so far. City officials have reached out to residents in several ways, including social media messaging, online polling on the Speak Up Hyattsville website, live voting via text message, and the interactive idea fairs. By providing multiple opportunities and formats for residents to voice their opinions, planners have been able to engage people who are regularly involved in local matters as well as others who may be participating for the first time. Gerbes said that the city planners are making an effort to involve groups that may have been underrepresented at the meetings.

Several attendees said they agreed that it was important that the plan fairly represent the interests of all community members, including the elderly, teens, and Hyattsville’s sizable Hispanic population.

Community planners will integrate all of this community input into a sustainability plan, which they hope to present at a public hearing in April and officially adopt in June. The next step for the planners is to categorize this feedback and identify which ideas have the most community support. Then, they will identify which plans are easily accessible and most readily implemented as well as those that can be executed in the mid- to long-range, depending on resources available.

Gerbes mentioned the idea of working with the Finance Center at the University of Maryland to seek possible grant funding opportunities and partnerships to eventually turn concepts into reality.

“We certainly don’t want to leave all of these great ideas sitting on a shelf,” she said.  

Community members who attended this workshop said they were appreciative of the city’s efforts to engage them in the planning process. Hyattsville is showing how collaborative, participatory democracy can lead to substantial actions on the local level. Through this interactive community engagement process, residents said they felt they are truly involved in shaping the future of Hyattsville.

Based on these workshops, it is clear that Hyattsville residents envision an inclusive, safe, sustainable, and thriving community with ample opportunities for work, volunteering, recreation and education for residents of all ages.