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Future Stock

Hundreds of Albany residents assembled last weekend to discuss Albany’s first comprehensive plan

by Elizabeth Knapp on February 4, 2010

Albany2030, a process to create the city’s first comprehensive plan, was kicked off in the form of three interactive community discussions held last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Led by the City of Albany Department of Development and Planning, and sponsored by consultant group Wallace Roberts and Todd, Albany2030 hopes to gain insight into the community’s collective vision of the city.

With the assistance of PlaceMatters, a public-engagement firm based in Colorado, the city of Albany reached out to its residents in a number of ways, including the use of new media such as Facebook and Twitter, to supplement traditional methods of posting and passing out thousands of flyers throughout the city.

“We’re trying to generate some excitement,” said Ken Snyder, president and CEO of PlaceMatters, “and have people see that it’s not just talking heads—and that there’s a lot of ways to get involved in the process.”

“The conversation at this stage of the process is more of the big-picture ideas, like ‘What do you love?,’ ‘What frustrates you?’ and ‘What are your first ideas about a vision for the future?’ ” he said. “And then the next meeting will be more down to the details of some of the elements of planning, which will help translate into specific strategies.”

Participants were split up into small discussion groups mediated by PlaceMatters representatives and assisted by volunteer student note-takers from the University at Albany. Groups were encouraged to reflect on Albany’s current strengths and challenges, ultimately reaching a vision they have for the city’s future. Each group then appointed a spokesperson to share their responses with the rest of the crowd.

Although similar forums held in other cities often “provoke battles, or can seem tired,” said Snyder, Albany residents “had great energy.”

Using keypad polling provided by PlaceMatters, attendees voted on their main concerns—offering instant feedback of the group’s consensus. Safety, public schools and suburbanization were listed among the city’s weaknesses, while higher education, a strong sense of community, and the convenience of its geographic location were considered its strengths.

“I’m really happy about the turnout,” said Michael Yevoli, commissioner of the Department of Development and Planning. “I think it was a great representation of the city.”

These forums marked the start of a 12-month process of acquiring public input. Albany residents are encouraged to host house parties as a way to informally discuss the comprehensive plan, or to participate online at albany2030.org.

The next series of forums will be held on April 22, 23, and 24.