Public Meetings in the Wake of Coronavirus

As the country prepares to adopt “temporary” lifestyle adjustments as long-term changes in the midst of the global pandemic, local governments are trying to do the same. Things are moving too quickly for governments and communities to carry on as normal, and now they must figure out what to do about an essential part of grassroots democracy: public meetings.

Businesses are closed and public meetings cancelled during COVID-19.

Real estate and planning projects hinge on public meetings for entitlements, zoning changes and other decisions shape the future of neighborhoods. They strive to give community members a voice in the planning process and a say in what happens in their community. Yet, we know public meetings are far from perfect. Attendance isn’t representative of a community’s population, and those in attendance don’t always feel invited to share their ideas. Meeting facilitators have tough jobs to welcome debate and opinions, while also keeping the conversation from going off the rails. Yet they are the rhythm of local government and community knowledge sharing.

It’s unclear what the repercussions of not holding such meetings are or how the processes we’ve come to know will change as a result of this pandemic. 

Will development be stymied without the necessary support for projects or votes for zoning modifications? Or will residents feel like in the dark without a setting to gain awareness of an issue or proposal? Be without a platform to express their opinions and concerns? Be generally less aware of community projects and issues? Left without a means to gather correct and detailed information?

One thing is for certain: community meetings as we know them just aren’t worth the risk during a public health crisis. So, what do we do to carry on this democratic process? 

Do we look into alternative ways to host community meetings? Can we hold public meetings virtually that are better than the normal in-person meetings? 

Or can we just wait it out – until it’s safe to gather in large groups again? Or do we outright cancel the meetings? Are in-person meetings really the best way to gather community input anyway?

There is no playbook for local governments and developers to turn to for insight into navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and things are moving too quickly to ponder and deliberate a thoughtful, strategic plan. There is no precedent to follow, no road map to serve as a guide. We’re doing our best to control one of the only things we can: candid conversation. 

There is nobody who this will not impact. We’re all stressed, and we’re not sure how we’ll figure it out. Our business is about relationships, and we’re certainly in this one together. 

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be rolling out new product features and resources to help our customers and the communities you serve, including virtual office hours to connect with our team and an online forum to ask questions and share ideas. We look forward to sharing them with you!

-Kristen Veit, Marketing Manager at coUrbanize