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Decatur Diary | March 15, 2018

Discuss, Refine: Week of workshops brings neighbors to the table

When first announced, Decatur’s purchase of the 77 acre United Methodist Children’s Home property was largely received as a win for greenspace, particularly given that 22 of those acres became immediately preserved in perpetuity as a condition of their financing. So here’s an interesting turn: Analyzing over a thousand ideas collected at February’s kick-off gathering, the most commonly recurring theme was affordable/community housing. And just behind that was recreation.

Prevalent themes from February’s kick-off. The larger the word, the more often it was mentioned.

Not that greenspace was no longer a priority. Quite the contrary, and many additional and related thoughts continue to emerge for consideration. But taken collectively, the full scope of ideas initially submitted and ranked by prevalence drive home an important point: The property’s future will invariably require a careful balancing of diverse goals and interests.

Give a little, get a little.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a place like Decatur, that’s exactly what happened at March’s three workshops, as the community’s epic wish list began its journey through reality-testing and whittling down. In the process, over 200 people gathered with their neighbors, sitting together at roundtables, listening, advocating, and exploring trade-offs.

Focused Discussion

Welcoming everyone to each meeting, Kyle Reis and Allison Bickers of the Cooper Carry-led project team oriented participants in the process with a summary of results from the kick-off event. They then set out the meeting’s primary activity, table discussions guided by maps and visual aids.

The rules were simple: Everyone gets equal time to speak, no one speaks over anyone else, and each idea gets assessed in terms of how well it furthers one or more of the city’s existing strategic goals. From there, each group was free to mock up a land plan that demonstrated some level of consensus among them.

2010’s Strategic Plan lays out the city’s 16 organizing goals.

The collective desire to work together was evident, as participants simultaneously pushed their pet ideas while balancing them against the ideas of others. The result at the close of each workshop was, generally speaking, a collection of site plans reflecting multiple strategies for sharing the property in inventive ways. For example, one table at the first of the three workshops managed to create a scheme incorporating, to some degree, all of the following: housing, track and field, tennis, ballfields, dog park, retained buildings for the arts and commercial operations, a revitalized orchard, and enhanced connectivity with downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Keep the Conversation Going

Mayor Garrett took a moment to update and thank everyone for attending, while Planning Director Angela Threadgill spelled out what comes next in the process:

Come Monday, April 30, the project team will return with three big picture options for community review, each incorporating input to-date and reflecting different priorities, cost obligations, necessary partners, etc. But until that time, the conversation continues with Civic Dinners.

Civic Dinners are a way to bring neighbors together in purposeful conversation. Folks sign up to host and are given three topic-specific questions to explore during the meal. Others sign up as guests, with 6 to 10 attending each gathering.

Hosts set whatever terms they’re comfortable with. Gather at home or at a local restaurant or coffee shop. Provide everything or ask your guests to bring something — side dish, dessert, beverage — to contribute. Everything is fully customizable.

We’ve set an ambitious goal of 100 dinners by the end of April. Everything you need to host or attend one can be found here so make plans today.

We look forward to seeing you in April. Until then, here’s a collection of photos from the March workshops. Click any image to launch the slideshow viewer.

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