WALC receives lots of questions from people through our community Help! Desk, social media sites and even during workshops. Below you will find answers to frequently asked questions. If you have more of your own, please contact us!
How can I engage, as a regular citizen, with the folks in my town who make these decisions?
- Don't do it alone! There is nothing more powerful than a motivated leader…except for a bunch of motivated leaders. Meet with everyone you can. Build a long list of supporters, and volunteers, and start a leadership team. This could be individuals, community groups, business owners, developers, elected officials, municipal staff, or anyone really.
- Find out how decisions are made. Find and read planning documents; or better yet, make sure that people on your leadership team have done that and understand how city, regional and state government decisions are made. Understand city ordinances, the comprehensive plan, and any other land use and transportation plans. Write down the important language.
- Decide what needs to be done. Create a list of goals, starting with short-term (things that can conceivably be completed in 100 days or less), then mid-range (up to one year or so), and long-term (the big wins that could take a lot of time and money). Policies, programs and projects are all important. But if you can, focus on policies, since they will guide the future of your community.
- Name it! There is power in identity. People will galvanize around something that seems organized and determined. Create a name, a website, a fact sheet, even a hashtag (if you have to ask, leave this to the tech-saavy people on your leadership team). Develop talking points that make the case - focus on positive benefits and success stories from other communities similar to yours, not on the negative consequences of doing nothing, or the wrong thing. People are more motivated by what is inspiring and exciting, than made (more) afraid of bad things.
- Get the word out. Talk to elected officials, community groups, and anyone else who will listen, especially the media. Remember to keep it positive and always focus on the big picture - don't get bogged down in technical details, that is for professionals to do later, once big picture decisions are made. Talk about economic benefits, health benefits, safety benefits, equity, and/or any other values that are shared by most people in your community. Relate your points to the laws and planning goals that are in place - hold your elected leaders and agencies to what they have committed to already. Make sure people are invited to get involved, and make it easy to join the fun.
- Don't give up! It can take time to make social and infrastructure changes in any community. Work hard, but be patient. At some point your ideas will hit a community tipping point and your goals may even start moving forward seemingly on their own. Success! Until then, make sure that you or others continue to move things forward.
- Share your successes with the world. Other communities who were in your position when you first started need to be inspired. Let them know how you achieved success, especially how you overcame challenges, how projects and programs were funded and implemented, what the outcomes are, and how it will be maintained into the far future.