A huge problem with development is that it often considers who could live in a neighborhood without regard for those who are already there. Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), an esteemed affordable housing developer, has taken steps to ensure that the redevelopment of Garfield Green on the West Side of Chicago isn’t just another story of development and displacement.
Garfield Park is one of the most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods of Chicago, which is already one of the most inequitable cities in our country. The pressure is on to improve the standard of living for longtime residents without displacing them.
The planning methods for the Garfield Green project have received great praise so far. Development without Gentrification highlights the way in which reputable community groups have used traditional methods to carry out boots-on-the-ground engagement alongside digital outreach to ensure a broader representation of the neighborhood is reached, particularly those who already reside there.
The Garfield Park Community Council, a neighborhood group, has been working closely with residents to ensure that transit hubs are fully utilized to address needs beyond affordable housing, including health inequalities and food scarcity. Civic leaders and other similar groups are already working together on-the-ground to better their community and are necessary forces for driving participation online and activating community members who don’t always get a voice in the process. Because of these efforts, the plans for project development have been guided by residents to ensure that they’re the first to benefit from the project.
No single outreach effort – canvassing, public meetings, social media, etc. – will lead to successful community engagement in isolation. But, when a strategy is carefully crafted using the right mix of methods and with special attention to the uniqueness of a given development and community, engagement can both thrive and be productive.
At coUrbanize, we talk a lot about how digital community engagement allows our project teams to reach more people. Although many of us don’t have time or ability to attend a meeting, we can connect online to learn more about what’s happening in our communities and to share our thoughts about it. These alternative methods are particularly timely given the challenges of the pandemic.
Online digital engagement also makes it far easier to engage in dialogue over a longer period of time since it doesn’t take place at a public meeting – a single moment in time. The hybrid method of community engagement enables individual community members to contribute to participatory dialogue about their needs and establish a sense of community. As a result, the conversation is more dynamic, giving both project teams and community members the opportunity to combat bias and myths with facts.
With the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, it’s more important than ever to think carefully and strategically about how to reach community members. We’re no longer able to gather at large community meetings, and it’s far less feasible to knock on doors. But what we can do is provide the vehicle for gathering community input digitally (online, via SMS & voicemail) and collaborate with community partners with institutional knowledge to effectively reach the community.
There is no substitute for the boots-on-the-ground efforts that POAH and groups like the Garfield Park Community Council carry out, but complementing those efforts with digital engagement ensures that more voices are heard – particularly now in the midst of the pandemic. By launching a digital engagement website, powered by coUrbanize, POAH was given another tool to understand what existing neighbors want to see and how the project could improve the quality of life in the community.
Inclusive community engagement benefits everyone. Your constituents can help you build a better project and a better community.