A lot of people are learning that most citizen communication methods have several deficiencies. Even though more people are going to meetings and learning how to engage with their governments on multiple levels, there are still too many processes that favor people in predominantly White communities. Sadly, many local governments are not actually looking to evolve. Voting is becoming suppressed, but in planning, most projects that happen are agreed upon long before anybody ever sets foot in a voting booth. Who then works on creating better community engagement processes?
Priya Patel, urban designer and planner, and I talked about that for some time. I met Priya when we both became part of the Pedestrian Advisory Council, a citizen-created committee endorsed by the City of Austin, including agendas on the city website. Citizens can receive agendas and speak at our meetings if desired. Priya has a passion for community engagement, and has been interested in citizen engagement ever since she graduated. She has noticed a lot of issues within the City of Austin, including marked discrepancies in how citizens and developers are treated, and how the city responds to engagement.
Though not jaded like a lot of other advocates for alternative mobility, Priya also understands that continuing the status quo has been extremely demoralizing for much of the population. She received the NACTO Transportation Justice Fellowship, and her goal is to figure out how to fix the community engagement process for alternative mobility. In theory, the United States is a democracy, but in practice, it has favored those who control and have the resources. The future of citizen engagement depends on those who are willing to challenge how the processes work, and the ensuring results. As we progress through the era of accountability, Priya reminds us that there is no way to have effective negotiations and city building without effectively engaging citizens who trust those who build.