Currently and last summer I’ve had the unique opportunity to intern with my hometown planning department. This year an anonymous art donation prompted the new planning director, who is a graduate of the same program I will be attending, to reach out to me for help defining public art locations in case of future donations. Over a couple months I performed informal site surveys and assembled a report on where art could go on the city’s properties, and presented it this morning to the Public Properties Committee.
During breakfast at a downtown cafe, I explained my process and asked the committee members, who included the mayor and two council members, for feedback on the report and specific art locations. I focused on locations with high public exposure, so most of them are in city parks. Expecting criticism similar to the many architectural critiques I’ve suffered, I was pleasantly surprised to hear appreciation and positive remarks. My knowledge of municipal business and graphic skills finally came in handy. The report will move forward to the city council for approval within a couple weeks.
However, I was not prepared for some of the heated discussion that was on the rest of the agenda. A prominent citizen, representing an emerging consortium of businesspeople, county officials, and active residents, presented a survey that asked about the need for a new public recreation facility. It appeared that citizens are in support of a new indoor facility, but the presenter was criticized by a council member for only having some 500 respondents in a representative area of 17,000. I silently disagreed that the presenter was trying to hide the low turnout, as this is the very beginning of what could be a new capital project.
There was also friction between the committee chairperson and the mayor, who inadvertently botched a pending lease agreement with a resident who is renting a soccer field from the city.
Other topics of interest included whether to set minimum distances between crosswalks and if the city should write an informal policy about where speed bumps are allowed, both in response to residents’ and business owners’ concerns. There was also the issue of setting up a work study for identifying locations for new bike racks and what style of racks would be appropriate.
It’s not my first encounter with smalltown politics, but it was a good experience. As part of a sociology course, I also previously presented to the planning commission in my college town an idea to start transit service between campus and the airport. The commission’s desire to avoid competing with taxi services, along with lack of a detailed funding plan, mean the service probably won’t come to fruition. But it was a good first step to dealing with politicians and public officials.
When the final draft of the public art report is released I’ll be sure to link to it here for your perusal. Below is the cover page.