Council hears from visioning firms
- Published: April 2, 2009
On Monday, March 30, Village Council met in a special meeting with ACP, a Columbus firm that is one of two finalists for the job of leading Yellow Springs in a visioning and planning process. About 25 villagers attended the meeting, along with members of the Visioning Task Force, to hear ACP’s presentation and to ask questions.
On the previous Monday, March 23, Council and citizens had met with representatives of the other finalist, Regenesis/KKG, two firms that plan to work together on a local visioning process, if hired. Regenesis is located in New Mexico and KKG in Columbus.
Council members will deliberate on the choice at a future meeting, which the Miami Township Trustees will also attend. While Village Council will fund the visioning process, Council members have asked the Township to participate. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for Monday, April 27.
Council members last year set aside $50,000 for a visioning process, which they have stated will help villagers move forward on complex and sometimes contentious issues such as land use planning and economic development. A task force has met for a year to help identify firms to lead the process. After receiving 27 proposals from interested firms, the group narrowed the field to two finalists. The task force has recently submitted grants to local foundations to add about $25,000 to the funding, task force leader Len Kramer said Monday night.
In their presentations, both firms emphasized that they will not impose a “cookie-cutter” process on the community, but rather will seek what works for Yellow Springs.
“Our first responsibility is to listen to you,” said ACP principal Jamie Green on Monday night. Green said that, if his firm is hired, he will be the ACP representative leading the Yellow Springs process. Also present was ACP principal Gianni Longo and economic consultant Don Iannone, who would also be involved in the process.
In a summary on the two firms’ outstanding qualities prepared by the task force, ACP was cited for being one of the “pioneers” of the visioning movement, having begun its work more than 30 years ago. The small firm, which employs eight in Columbus and New York City, has also worked with 13 college towns on issues of town/gown relationships.
“They express their commitment repeatedly to the democratic process. They are praised for their ability to help the public develop and gather ideas; are skilled at attracting a diverse population and work well with diversity and conflict,” the summary states.
In their presentation, ACP representatives emphasized their belief in the power of dialogue to help a community find consensus on complex issues. While they will seek to include the opinions of those who don’t attend meetings, their emphasis is on bringing people together, Green said.
“The difference between using surveys and a visioning process is that, in a visioning process, people can change their minds,” Green said. The ACP visioning process includes the stages of gathering information, analyzing the information, and deliberation, he said, athough the specifics vary in each community. Most of the dialogue would take place in small group discussions facilitated by villagers who have been trained in the process and who must maintain neutrality, according to Green, who will oversee the events.
When the visioning process is completed, the community will continue to reap benefits of having created a model of successful dialogue, Longo said.
“Once we’re done, there will be something left,” he said. “The process will leave a legacy.
The strength of Regenesis/KKG is in its focus on “story of place,” a process developed by Regenesis that involves “deeply researching the natural and human history of the places to shed light on the potential for planning grounded in sustainability and understanding of the community’s social resources,” according to the task force summary.
Finding a story of place for a community helps to bring people together, according to Regenesis representative Ben Haggard, who would, if hired, conduct the research and facilitate the charrette process, or gathering, he said.
“The purpose is to find a basis for working on issues outside of the issues themselves,” he said. “ It’s looking for a basis for reconciliation.”
The Regenesis/KKG process will include an initial kickoff charette, research to find the “story of place,” then a second gathering at which the story is reported back to the community. After that, a “community vocation” is identified that leads to developing a vision and an action plan, Haggard said.
Both groups emphasized that the visioning process would be followed by deliverable action plans. They also both emphasized that the action plans will include economic development strategies as well as community building.
Regenesis and KKG, which has 35 employees in Columbus, have never before worked together, but they are eager to do so, according to KKG head Brian Kinzelman, who said the collaboration between the two firms would be “seamless.”
Past KKG clients have included both commercial interests and municipalities, while Regenesis has mainly worked with developers. The ACP group has focused on working with municipalities, according to Longo.
Both firms also emphasized the importance of including a broad and diverse representation of the community in the visioning process, and stated that they will seek help from local volunteers in identifying “opinion leaders,” or villagers who might persuade those who don’t usually get involved in community discussions, to take part.
“People will participate if they’re invited by someone they trust,” Longo said.