Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Regarding Community Involvement

I agree very much with Lydia's comment, that to listen is the best way to reach an understanding with people.

As a landscape architect I have found that communities all have specific differences, and general similarities.

In general:
1. Individuals within a community don't all agree with each other.
2. They want to have their say, and to be taken account of in decisions.
3. They know lots about where they live that we don't know.

The most successful projects I have worked on were the ones where we began without prejudice. That is to say, we deliberately kept our own ideas and wishes and opinions out of the way until we had gained an understanding of what local people told us.

In 'The Fairytale of Burscough Bridge' we began for several weeks by asking local people
1. what they thought of their town
2. what other people thought of their town
3. the best bits about their town
4. the worst bits    etc....

One of the most important things was allowing people to see that there were significantly differing opinions within the community. There was not one magic solution which would please everyone living there, we tried to get them thinking about each other's opinions. We simultaneously did extensive research into the area, following leads given to us by local people. Once we understood how people felt about where they lived, and were able to suggest solutions involving bits of their own history that even they didn't know, it seemed that we'd gained their trust.

In another project, BCAL entered a competition where the community would vote for the winner following a presentation. All the other entrants showed images and plans of how the place would look once the project was finished. BCAL gave out postcards and asked people to return them to us with their memories and thoughts about their place, we got the commission in the end.

Once we arrive in Lake City I would like to meet, and listen to, as many people as possible. I find it always feels a bit scary to not be producing ideas and 'stuff' as soon as possible, but I believe it's better.

Some practical suggestions...

Opinions/stories/ideas in written or video (or some other recorded form that is as little mediated as possible) would be a great resource for us when we arrive.

Tapping into pre-existing groups (sports/social/professional) and meeting them. Allowing those who are most interested/committed to find us. That way involvement can trickle up!

Meeting different groups separately, then all groups together later.

Asking the community to consider how others, both within and outside their community, view the situation.

I don't know what anyone else thinks, but I'd be interested to hear.


  1. Great thoughts, Becky. I have someone in Lake City doing video interviews of people (or is supposed to be). I like the questions you came up with and will add them. I also think the idea about tapping into pre-existing groups is a good one. Summer is a busy time in Lake City. Many people make the bulk of their income in the summer, and it is short, so lining things up now is important.

    I do plan on quite a bit of interviewing before you dig into problem solving.

    Oh, and if you want follow up notification for any of these posts you can subscribe below.


  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Becky regarding the complexities of working with communities.
    I have found another strategy that works well is walking through contested landscapes with different groups and 'unlocking' some of the hidden histories together.
    Some of the most stressed and divided communities along the border of Northern ireland have responded well to activities like walking, where the seemingly innocent landscape and appreciation of the views can help to provide ways to discuss with more complicated issues such as shared histories with diverging traditions.

    A systemic view of the histories of the Lake city landscape and environs may be helpful. Is the UTE Indian reservation close by and could a trip there be helpful in extending understanding of the land and its uses before the expansionist period of the late 19C? The Utes Must Go!: American Expansion and the Removal of a People by Peter Decker
    ( 2004) gets very good reviews as a scholarly overview of the region and its history.