May 13: Best Practices Forum at JFK Middle School

We encourage citizens to attend this public forum on best practices in Northampton city government. Here is the agenda from the Best Practices Google Group:


Best Practices Public Forum #1

May 13th, 2008 7:00 – 9:00 pm   

Jackson Street School

Facilitator: Lisa DePiano




& mission of BPC, intro of work group


* Generate
answers to two questions:

§ What
reactions have you had to the ways the Northampton city government has made
its decisions?

§ What
could it do differently?  (We will take
your ideas back to the BPC.)

* Enlist
committed volunteers for sub-committees


* Intro

* Vox Populi Video

* Warm-Up

* Small Group

* Report-Backs

* Call for
Sub-Committee Volunteers

* Conclusion


* Speak
your mind!  Contribute your ideas.

* Keep
small group discussion balanced.  Stay
involved, but let others do the talking, too.

* Remain
open and respectful to all ideas and all people



get you thinking, we have an amusing video of people on the street talking
about Northampton



Exercise/ Silent Idea Generation:

Take 3 minutes to write down your
ideas to this question: 
reactions have you had to the ways the Northampton city government has made
its decisions
We will collect the cards and turn them in to the Best Practices
Committee, but you can elect to not turn yours in.  Regardless, they will remain anonymous
unless you choose to include your name.



Group Break-Out Sessions:

* You’ll
be working in facilitated groups for the next 45 minutes.  You’ll generate ideas that we will take
back to the BPC.

* Break
into groups of 7 by finding a flipchart and standing near it.

* Please
try to distribute yourselves across groups: 
Try to have no more than one city official or employee in each group,
if you came with friends, split yourselves up if you’re comfortable doing so.


for Report-Backs:

ideas really stood out for you?  (Allow
people to stand up and point out ideas.)



volunteers for BPC work groups.




* Any
additional points/questions?  These
will go back to BPC with the 3×5 cards & flipcharted ideas.

* Hand
out evaluation forms, explaining that we WILL read them and use the feedback
to structure our next forums.



See also:

Gazette Guest Column: “Give residents a role in city issues”
Since most people are not experienced or comfortable with public
speaking in front of large groups, the mode of reaching out and
obtaining information could include interviews, written answers to
questionnaires, e-mail, or some combination of these approaches…

changing zoning ordinances so that development can occur in established
neighborhoods there is a conflict between whether primacy is given to
the quality of life of the residents who live there or to the wishes of
other city residents who want more housing options and to developers
who want to generate more business…

For there to be
sustainable citizen involvement in the future of Northampton, input on
issues of consequence to the lives of our residents needs to be both
actively solicited and facilitated so that critically important
opinions are not coming in a delayed, after-the-fact manner, where the
opportunity for true discussion has then been missed.

Gazette Lead Editorial: “A public role in planning”
the Planning Board’s options are limited statutorily, in our opinion
there needs to be a way for the board to garner public opinion earlier
in the process and work with developers sooner to address design

…Northampton would benefit from a review of its
planning process – with a particular eye on its public notification
efforts to ensure that the public is involved early in the process.

Fran Volkmann: Planning Board Needs to Consider Proposals in their Broader Context
its meeting on Thursday night, the Planning Board addressed only a few
of the many “tree” questions and essentially no “forest” questions…

no time did it address a single idea, question, or item of information
submitted to it in an extensive set of letters and public comment.

quality of decision-making on the board may well be the single most
important determiner of the quality of major projects such as this
hotel. The way the board reaches decisions also influences in important
ways the level of acceptance of projects by the community. And, not
least over the long run, the board’s approach to decision-making
determines the level of trust and confidence that the public has in the
board and in the Planning Department that guides its work.

Letter to Gazette: Planning Board too lax with Developers
the case of the proposed Beaverbrook Estates project here in
Leeds…citizens have repeatedly expressed profound unease about the
project’s impact on the environment, traffic, pedestrian safety, water
pressure, and storm water drainage… Rather than contend with these
issues directly, the Planning Board has repeatedly followed the Office
of Planning and Development’s staff recommendations and granted the
applicant multiple waivers to state and local regulations. Waivers
should only be granted if the project is in the public good, and this
has hardly been demonstrated. In the end, narrow private interests seem
to trump the greater good.

Letter to The Republican: “planners and most board members are out of touch with the city’s residents”

Seeing Like a State: Planning Gone Awry in the 20th Century
Scott proposes guidelines to reduce the potential harm from plans. These include:

Take small steps. In an experimental approach to
social change, presume that we cannot know the consequences of our
interventions in advance. Given this postulate of ignorance, prefer
wherever possible to take a small step, stand back, observe, and then
plan the next small move…

Favor reversibility. Prefer
interventions that can easily be undone if they turn out to be
mistakes. Irreversible interventions have irreversible consequences.
Interventions into ecosystems require particular care in this respect,
given our great ignorance about how they interact…

Plan on surprises.
Choose plans that allow the largest accommodation to the unforeseen…
In planning housing, it would mean “designing in” flexibility for
accommodating changes in family structures or living styles…

Plan on human inventiveness.
Always plan under the assumption that those who become involved in the
project later will have or will develop the experience and insight to
improve on the design… (p.345)

Scott concludes by calling
for a healthy respect for diverse lifestyles and the wisdom of ordinary
people. In the case of Northampton, we urge planners to respect
the preferences of families with children, as this has been a major issue in other Smart Growth cities like Portland.

The power and precision of high-modernist schemes depended
not only on bracketing contingency but also on standardizing the
subjects of development…

This subject was singularly
abstract… Standardized citizens were uniform in their needs and even
interchangeable. What is striking, of course, is that such
subjects–like the “unmarked citizens” of liberal theory–have, for the
purposes of the planning exercise, no gender, no tastes, no history, no
values, no opinions or original ideas, no traditions, and no
distinctive personalities to contribute to the enterprise…

the degree that subjects can be treated as standardized units, the
power of resolution in the planning exercise is enhanced. Questions
posed within these strict confines can have definitive, quantitative

What is perhaps most striking about high-modernist
schemes, despite their quite genuine egalitarian and often socialist
impulses, is how little confidence they repose in the skills,
intelligence, and experience of ordinary people.

…the high-modernist urban complex represents an impoverished and unsustainable social system…

diverse, animated environments contribute, as Jacobs saw, to producing
a resilient, flexible, adept population that has more experience in
confronting novel challenges and taking initiative. Narrow, planned
environments, by contrast, foster a less skilled, less innovative, less
resourceful population. (p.345-349)…