Successful preparation for a community meeting surrounding a development,
controversial or not, lies in the details-the most important of which is ensuring that proper notification of meeting information be given to abutters in a timely manner. Recently, however, that ball is being dropped more consistently than not and it is time that this be changed.
There is nothing worse than being accused of not informing your constituents of a community meeting, being called-out on Twitter and having a resident write accusatory notes on meeting flyers comes in a close second and third, but the initial accusation certainly stings the most. Feelings of mistrust are at the forefront of citizens’ minds and, before they lay an eye on an architect’s rendering, constituents feel that they’re being swindled. Not a very good first impression to make, regardless, of how many projects you have overseen or meetings you have attended.
A detailed process of notifying abutters must be put in place in order to regain the confidence of development-fatigued Somerville residents. Stat. Through ordinance or mandated by the Planning Department, proper notification of community meetings should mirror that of Zoning and Planning meetings, including, flier drop/mailing weeks in advance, notice sent to newspapers and community websites, inclusion on social media sites, and a sign posted at the site. This bare-minimal list is a better start to the inefficient methods of yesterday and would cover all bases of notification for these increasingly important, face-to-face gatherings that connect residents to the happenings of their neighborhood. Asking Aldermen to include this information on email and neighborhood-based listservs can also be a successful approach to engage and inform.
Doing everything possible to properly report to residents the changes in the streetscape of their neighborhood eliminates mistrust and produces much more fruitful conversations about development where residents feel integrated in the process. This course of action does not guarantee that a project will be accepted, but it certainly sets a tone of transparency and inclusion that is always accepted and appreciated.