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Ponderosa Mobile Home Park: Building Trust and Capacity

Since March 2015, PlaceMatters has been working at the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park in North Boulder, CO, around issues of affordable housing, community engagement and communicating complexities. Through our grant with HUD-EPA Sustainable Communities Initiative and a subsequent contract with Trestle Strategy Group, we had the pleasure of working with the Ponderosa community and the City of Boulder to navigate the complexities of annexation for the parcel of land that currently offers a valuable asset for low-income residents.

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The community of Ponderosa is unique: 69 trailers are located on a privately-owned parcel that falls under the Boulder County jurisdiction but is surrounded by the City; residents enjoy wonderful views of the foothills, river and park access, a community garden, and can walk to shops, bus routes, and bike paths.The community offers affordable, single family units that are not subsidized by affordable housing programs or the government. The residents know they have something special, which is why many of them have been here for over twenty years. 

 

Green frame - view The issue of affordability in Boulder has been at the forefront of the regional conversation and for good reason. Trulia.com reports that the median selling price for a home in Boulder, CO from May to August 2015 was $538,000. In 2014 the Boulder Weekly reported that the large number of high earning households in the community is creating higher housing prices and a dwindling stock of affordable housing units. As part of addressing affordability, Boulder has looked to preserving mobile home parks as an asset.

 

As residents have noted, they are proud to own their homes and that they are not subsidized. They appreciate having their own space, not in a multi-story apartment building and value having room for their children to play in a stable community. From their perspective, the park is a very different life than other affordable housing types.

However, Ponderosa, like many mobile home parks that are owed by a single landowner, certainly does have issues to confront. Aging infrastructure can be overly burdensome for a single landowner or cause drastic rent hikes to cover. Road improvements and flooding concerns can also be factors. The City of Boulder is working with the landowners to find innovative and collaborative ways to address these issues and keep the residents of Ponderosa in place.

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Our work on this project started with compiling research on practices and land use policies for mobile home parks across the nation. PlaceMatters reviewed existing policy for mobile home parks across the nation, area experts in mobile home park issues and created a resource guide for mobile home park policy considerations, common issues and area experts. The research led us to understand that
Colorado has relatively few protections for residents and unfavorable land use policies for parks. It also showed how parks can become places where residents thrive from an appreciable asset.

 

Research provided the base knowledge that we needed to engage with the community. Marine Siohan and Anne Kuechenmeister had the opportunity to work with Ponderosa residents alongside Trestle. Annexation is a complicated process that is difficult to understand. The community was also starting in a place of mistrust for city government. The team knew that building trust and communicating complex issues, while learning about what the community needs and values were, would be critical pieces to guide the annexation scenarios that were recommended.  In order to build trust and learn about the community, PlaceMatters sought to shift the power dynamic of interactions between the team and residents.

 

Crowd at July 1 meetingMeetings were held in the community, in a comfortable outdoor space, in English and Spanish, using low-tech community methods. This was the basis for integrating power shifting techniques to open up dialogue.

 

PlaceMatters used a variation of PhotoVoice, a process of collecting input telling place based stories through photos. Residents used red and green frames to take photos of what they wanted improved and what they value and appreciate in the community. Red frame symbolized what they would like to be changed about their community and green frames represent what they value. Residents taught us what was important to them about the community and what they would like to change. This helped us understand values and community assets while building trust.

 

Using photography to communicate also assisted in breaking down language barriers between English and Spanish and made enabled people with different levels of literacy to equally participate. In addition, the activity was accessible to youth and adults, and resulted in nuances being communicated in a way that may be lost in a traditional written survey.

 

Alongside static photos, we also worked with residents to videotape their stories and connections to Ponderosa and the surrounding community. Through storytelling residents have shared their vision for the future and what they value about their community. Sharing residents’ voices has given city leaders a better understanding of who lives here and why the opportunities that the park affords them is so valuable. We are excited to announce that after seeing the video and hearing information on the park, the Boulder City Council has stated that they are not willing to move forward with annexation if it means that residents will be displaced.

 

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Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools and a Changing Planning Paradigm

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Download the report “Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools” from the Lincoln website.

Having come off of a really great APA 2012 in Los Angeles, I’m very excited about the energy and momentum building for some of the topics I’ve devoted a lot of my professional and personal energy to.  One of my main roles at PlaceMatters is to open up the tools available in planning by supporting and building a community around tool development, use and experimentation.

While we’ll still build and experiment with tools at PlaceMatters in our on the ground work, we are turning things inside-out here and making tool development an exploratory and collaborative process as much as we can.  We’ve started this through our involvement with the Open Source Planning Tools group, which has regular monthly calls and, so far, 2 annual workshops [join our discussion on Google Groups] supported by a joint partnership of the Lincoln Institute and Sonoran Institute.  While I am excited about the tools we can build together as a community, my ultimate passion lies in the possibility for paradigm shifts and transformations about how we think of planning and the mechanisms we have for implementation.  The scenario tools that we want to open access to are a means and not just an end for me.

You can see a little preview of where all this is heading in the Lincoln Policy Focus Report Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools [download] [and read more about the report here, here and here].  The final recommendation addresses “advancing new concepts to address future challenges.”  Maybe a bit vague and open ended at this point, but this is where the exciting transformations could occur if we move this conversation.  This recommendation speaks to the conundrum we have if we are successful at making scenario planning tools more adaptive and flexible and yet have static implementation mechanisms like zoning and subdivision ordinances that do not reflect emerging realities captured in our explorations of many possible futures.  Tools and ways of thinking are now catching up to the pace of change in our dynamic world.  We stand at a milestone in a conversation that arguably traces back to Christopher Alexander and early systems thinking, where technology, research and policy can converge to give us a regulatory system that is more adaptive and responsive to the needs and challenges of modern cities [see also: earlier blog post on a Pattern Language].

We haven’t formalized this discussion yet, but you can track it at ScenarioPlanningTools.org.  Ray Quay, who has many more intelligent insights into this topic, will help us shepherd this conversation into something more robust over the coming years and I’ll be prodding us along as much as I can in my role at PlaceMatters.  This is an important and exciting conversation to have and I think it will bring a number of folks together from many fields and interests.  It will also bring about a number of challenges we’ll have to figure out together as a community and profession like:

  1. What does a planning education look like in the future?
  2. What does the planning profession look like in the future? How should it change?  What are the unwavering core skills of the profession?
  3. What’s the right amount of flexibility in planning regulations (for example, some of the inflexibility is by design to save us from externalities of rapid and overwhelming development; what inflexibility can we cede if we have better systems for tracking change?)
  4. What are the challenges in fitting this into a democratic, representative decision-making process?
  5. How do we keep the process of planning and city-making human in light of these new tools and vast amounts of data?  Can we or should we avoid positivist approaches to planning and how can tool design keep us from marching down the path of metrics and data without human context?
  6. And many more…including more insight from Rob Goodspeed in this past blog post referencing E.S Savas’s 1970 Science Article Cybernetics in City Hall

Would you like to join us in the conversation and community building?  What other questions do we need to consider in this possible future?  Who are the early predecessors of this movement that we should bring out into the light again?  Help us shape the conversation.

Cross-posted on ScenarioPlanningTools.org

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: February 7, 2011

Next American City reflects on the hazards of being over-reliant on technological tools for civic engagement. As we reflect on a lot here at PlaceMatters, the digital divide still exists and has real impacts on civic capacity.

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation blogs about useful notion of the “conversational commons,” those elements of a community that enable “the enjoyable and productive conversations of a community.”

I posted a fun interview with Bonnie Shaw about building communities on- and off-line, the relationship between the two, and what all this might mean for civic capacity and community health.

My PlaceMatters colleagues Jocelyn Hittle and Jason Lally both posted on our blog with reflections on the New Partners for Smart Growth conference.

Gigaom reports on a forecast calling for 180 million tablets by 2014. Whatever nascent role tablets are playing now in public engagement and decision-making, it’s about to get much bigger.

Deliberations launched their new PrioritySpend tool last week, a Joomla extension that enables voting using weighted values . . . the admin establishes the amount each participants gets to spend and the spending parameters (e.g., if you can spend all your money on one option).

Bonnie Shaw on Building On- and Off-line Community

I caught up with Bonnie Shaw of BYO Consulting two weeks ago at a restaurant near the Hill in D.C. We met at a gathering of community-building folks convened by the Orton Family Foundation last fall right before their Community Matters conference, and lunch last week was a chance to get up to speed on her latest work. Bonnie’s focus now is largely on how how on- and offline communities and community building can interact. On the one hand, she talks about using the principles of placemaking in the physical world in ways that help foster online communities . . . under what circumstances do you end up with interesting and engaging online communities. She also looks at what online communities have to offer for community building in the physical world, and the even more interesting question of developing online communities that are themselves deeply embedded in physical places and spaces.

At PlaceMatters, we mostly focus on community decision making . . . how do we create decision processes that engage everyone, that give them the tools they need to contribute in meaningful ways, and that ensure that the decision makers hear what they need to hear from those community members. Bonnie’s work is more theoretical, looking at the structure of the community itself and the lessons that digital community building have to offer physical communities and vice versa. Ideas about community building don’t make much sense outside of the context of communities actually making decisions and taking action, however, so our work tends to be more about operationalizing those community building ideas. It’s an important nexus, and it’ll be great fun exploring . . . I think we already do a great job helping communities work through difficult decisions, but I’m happy to strengthen the ways in which those decision processes contribute even more to civic capacity, community resilience, and community sustainability.

PlaceMatters Weekly Blog Roundup: November 11, 2010

The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation released a new “Resource Guide on Public Engagement.”

AmericaSpeaks surveys online public input tools.

CommunityMatters reviews their Gov 2.0 teleconference last week.

Allison Fine posts about the Case Foundation’s review of their Make It Your Own project, an attempt to promote citizen-centered approaches to community building.

Philanthropy for Civic Engagement just released a new paper: “Civic Pathways Out of Poverty and Into Opportunity.” The paper explores how civic engagement can be used in conjunction with workforce development and other financial security goals for low-income youth and young adults.

On our own PlaceMatters blog, and in the wake of the Malcom Gladwell post that set the nonprofit world aflutter, Ken Snyder offers some thoughts on when social media tools are most effective in civic participation efforts.

Ken also writes about a recent Grist review of our “The Future We Want” project, a collaboration with Natural Capital and Arnold Imaging.

Next American City comments on improving web accessibility, an increasingly important issue for web-based community engagement efforts.

From the archive: The Association for Computing Machinery provides a “Tour Through the Visualization Zoo.”

Another from the archive: running cities like software on The Infrastructuralist (h/t to Strong Towns).

And from some weeks back: Ethan Zuckerman writes about the “gerrymander your own district” game, a fascinating attempt to engage on the messy issue of drawing congressional district boundaries.