The City of Edmonds is embarking this year on its now once-every-10-year major revision to the Comprehensive Plan. The city, under Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin, is proposing to use an “Equitable Engagement Framework” to solicit input about this revision from communities in Edmonds that may not have participated in the past. Ms. McLaughlin envisions recruiting what she calls “community champions” to represent their respective communities and as such they may volunteer their time or be compensated for their work. But will this process ensure that the voices of actual Edmonds’ renters, business owners, homeowners, who represent the great majority of Edmonds’ residents, are listened to and that residents truly feel “heard” and engaged? And how will traditionally under-represented communities be defined? Will they include
- Families with young children
- Veterans and Wounded Warriors whose incomes are above poverty levels
- Families with children with mobility, sight, and cognitive concerns
- Independent adults with mobility and sight concerns whose incomes are above poverty levels
- Independent senior citizens whose incomes are above poverty levels?
It is critical as this work of revising the Comprehensive Plan moves forward that an elegant process be used to hear the voices of all residents – renters, business owners, homeowners. All should have the ability to express their needs and desires regarding infrastructure, parks, the environment, the overall “vibe” of Edmonds, housing, streets, and general livability of the city. This is not an easy task. And, in fact, using a representative as a voice for a community is different from listening to all the voices in that community expressing their concerns, wants, desires, and then distilling those public discussions into a vision and guiding principles for review of the Comprehensive Plan.
Citizens from every neighborhood, community, and group want to be heard; they want their ideas and thoughts “on the table”; and they believe they are busy and the process to participate should be easy. While it is timesaving for city staff, the use of group spokespersons simply does not afford that same feeling of inclusion for residents. Further, the possibility of paying group spokespersons runs the risk of introducing a financial bias that may be neither honest nor helpful. That money would be better spent holding more listening sessions out with the underserved communities at times that meet their needs. Understand that people engage and remain engaged when they feel they are heard, not necessarily when they are told a spokesperson will advance issues on their behalf.
What is a better way to move forward in order to be truly equitable? Information-gathering sessions need to be held in all geographic areas of Edmonds at a variety of times of day. Some additional sessions could be held in the morning at 8 a.m. and in the evening as late as 10 p.m. to be supportive of those who work night or evening shifts. In the end, this extra effort will pay off in wide-ranging community engagement and ownership of processes. And that will in turn benefit the Edmonds’ community well-being and growth.
The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds supports a strategy of community-wide outreach with targeted actions and geographic dispersion to ensure all voices in the community are heard. Updating the Comprehensive Plan is now a once-in-a decade opportunity for Edmonds’ residents to engage in creating the vision for the community in which they live and work. We need to get the process right to get the vision representative of all Edmonds – an increasingly diverse and inclusive community that is the “Gem of Puget Sound.”
Dr. Michelle Dotsch, on behalf of
The Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE)