Who Is the “Public” at Public Meetings?
Here at Strong Towns, we’ve spotlighted the shortcomings of conventional public participation in the development process before. When the public is asked to weigh in on development and infrastructure decisions, it is often in ways that are, at best, outside their expertise, and at worst, actively corrosive of civic trust because of public engagement’s tenuous or nonexistent connection to real, implementable outcomes.
Yet make no mistake: public participation in government is absolutely crucial. A strong town can and should be shaped from the bottom up by the opinions—and perhaps more importantly, actions—of a broad spectrum of individuals with a stake in the town’s success. This is crucial to any place’s resilience and long-term prosperity. A city built by many hands will experience painful, but manageable, feedback if things aren’t working, and then they can correct course. A city disproportionately shaped by a few hands is much more fragile: its leadership may make catastrophic mistakes that can become irreversible by the time the extent of the harm becomes clear.