Saturday, December 3, 2011

Upcoming Meetings on I-49 Corridor a Chance to Shape What Happens?

Here's three chances to influence the future of our city in two ways: to influence public opinion on I-49, and to influence the capacity of public opinion to shape our city for the good of public interests.

To quote from the flier: "These three community-wide input meetings are being scheduled as the project moves into the environmental assessment phase. They will provide opportunities for you to learn more, voice your opinion and give the planning team specific ideas about design alternatives for this interstate

Tuesday, December 13th 6:00 pm
LA Technical College
2010 N. Market Street

Wednesday, December 14th noon
Shreve Memorial Library
424 Texas Street
Bring your lunch!

Thursday, December 15th 6:00 pm
J.S. Clark Middle School
351 Hearne Avenue

There's a dark side and a bright side to these meetings. The dark side is that they might be just for show. The bright side is regardless of that, that the more the public meets and communicates, the stronger its voice gets. But for that to happen, we have to go to the meetings, and we have to talk about them. ABS was founded to strengthen the public's voice by facilitating that talk, and here's something that deserves talk.
And we may have to express ourselves, because not every meeting has decision makers that are listening; not every urban planner is well-trained in soliciting community input; not every metropolitan planning organization even uses planners!
So, the folks in charge could be holding these meeting just for appearances; to look like their listening to public opinion. It's possible their minds are made up already. And there's plenty of people who've been trying to influence them; wealthy, politically connected property owners, for example, who would make money by the interstate taking a certain form. Sadly, we know their interests can dominate the discussion and in the end decisions are made in their favor. Read any textbook in urban sociology and you'll see studies showing it happens.
But there are also studies showing private interests don't always win. Sometimes the public does.
Obviously, individual interests can and should matter. But the costs and benefits to a community can and should outweigh individual interests. The dark side is that money and power influences the negotiations over any decision.
But on the bright side, the public is a player in those negotiations, and with potentially dominant power. There is always a court of public opinion that can rule loudly and with real consequences if enough people care to speak up.
Moreover, that court gets more powerful and useful the more its used. In participating in the dialogue that shapes public opinion, we get stronger as a community. We get practice in articulating our views, in sharing them and communicating them. We get to know different leaders and organizations from different neighborhoods, schools, and community organizations. And we figure out how to pool our resources to make the rulings we make matter. As people connect with each other, a web of diverse social networks eventually spreads across the city. As those networks are connected and then used to voice a single point of view, it gets heard loud and clear.
This makes all of us players in the negotiations over I-49. And the real bright side is that just trying to be heard on this issue makes us a more powerful court for future decisions. Let's make our court of public opinion one that private interests have to worry about. Let's go to the meetings and talk, there and afterwards, and push the public interest to the forefront!

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