Wing street facilitation process must be open-minded
Supporters of a pedestrian mall on the east Grand Avenue wing street hope the hiring of a facilitator can help get the project airborne.
This attempt at consensus-building may be just what’s needed to make a pedestrian mall happen. But if done right, it also could spell the end of the project.
That’s because a true effort at consensus-building by a facilitator could lead participants toward either of two opposing conclusions – either in favor of closing the street to vehicles, or leaving it open.
The Downtown Development Authority is hiring the facilitator, Gary Suiter of Carbondale. Suiter will present his findings to City Council, which will then decide how to proceed on the issue.
Bringing in a facilitator is a good move. A poll of property owners near the wing street indicated about 60 percent support for the project. But that still leaves a significant amount of opposition that can’t just be ignored.
DDA chairman David Hauter said of the facilitation process, “The whole thing is geared toward people who have been in opposition. We’re making sure we’re reaching out to them.”
That’s fair enough, as long as it isn’t totally a matter of trying to change their minds. Hopefully supporters can make a compelling case that a pedestrian mall would be best for affected businesses and the city at large. But a true process of reaching out and seeking consensus also means listening with an open mind to objections, and even being prepared to let go of the idea of the wing street closure if these objections can’t be adequately addressed.
Suiter was hired by a group with a pro-pedestrian-mall agenda. But he will best serve the city by leading a discussion without a foregone conclusion in mind for the wing street. The only goal should be seeking agreement on its best future use.
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