Engagement for People’s Sake – Phasing and Dynamic Outreach for Sustainable Street Master Planning in San Mateo County
Gone are the days of two-hour evening workshops on weeknights at city halls to try to accommodate community needs and family schedules. A major part of building a sustainable future for stormwater is effective engagement, especially for large-scale planning efforts, which seek to engage communities on issues that have significant consequences for the future of their neighborhoods and environments. Community engagement is a core component of the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention’s Sustainable Streets Master Plan—a countywide planning project to evaluate future precipitation-based climate change impacts on roadways and identify and prioritize integrated green infrastructure and transportation improvement projects (bike and pedestrian project, streetscape redesigns and other road enhancements). To track the development of the project and receive meaningful public input, the project team has taken a deliberate multi-phased and multi-pronged approach to engagement, with a focus on accessibility, innovation and effectiveness. The intent is engagement for people’s sake, not for the sake of the project.
This presentation will demonstrate the dynamic public engagement process forged in the San Mateo Countywide Sustainable Streets Master Plan. The presentation will show how to leverage technology in this tech-centric time when web-based tools are gaining exponential use among all, while also maintaining necessary face-to-face interaction, given it’s a feasible option, and how to adapt for a fully web-based approach when unanticipated obstacles to in-person engagement occur, like the current statewide shelter-in-place order for COVID-19. We will explore how a phased approach can break the engagement process into logical pieces that map across the project’s milestones and how to translate complex topics, including how to define “sustainable streets,” understanding downscaled climate modeling, and presenting technical results from a project opportunities and prioritization analysis, into digestible outreach materials that provide action and purpose for community members. We will showcase a variety of tools and tactics designed for each phase, including tabling with human-centered poster-boards and game-based activities at community “pop-up” events, web engagement and social media, online surveys and virtual “community walking tours,” for project conceptualization. Community-specific language translation, simplified technical terminology, creating a fun atmosphere and considerations of geographic and social equity are also a key focus of the outreach design. The presentation will follow the four phases included in the engagement strategy, including 1) Project Introduction and Sustainable Street Design, 2) Prioritization Criteria and Sustainable Streets Network, 3) Review of Initial Design Concepts, 4) Draft Sustainable Streets Master Plan.
Ultimately, our vision for the future of stormwater is one where people are integral to stormwater solutions, and where the public can truly engage with how their streets and communities evolve in response to climate change, social and economic diversity and many often-complementary goals. The Sustainable Streets Master Plan Community Engagement Strategy brings a fresh perspective on how to invite the public meaningfully into a long-term planning project, which otherwise might have limited public participation. For stormwater, especially, this may really seem like a vision for the future, but as this project shows, it can happen now.