A new community engagement program works with young adults to help the future of the neighborhood and get others involved.
ommunity engagement is a vital part of any brownfield program. Not only is it a requirement in the grant work plan but it is an important part of our Stantec mission to put people first.
Many of the neighborhoods we are working in are very diverse in population, and it’s common to find language barriers and a disconnected populous. I believe the key to the success of any brownfield project is involving the community where the project is taking place. When a neighborhood feels a part of what is transpiring, there is a better chance they will believe in the project and stand behind it.
The importance of community involvement
I recently attended a session at the Brownfields Conference called Changing the Face of Community Engagement by Groundwork USA. The session focused on how community engagement has become mundane and, most of the time, it’s truly missing the correct people with whom we should engage. The organization is committed to pursuing a future where everyone’s neighborhood environment is green, healthy, and resilient. The goal is to undo legacies of poverty and racial discrimination, while breaking the trend of widening disparity between communities that are enjoying a renaissance and communities that are experiencing disinvestment, neglect, and deepening poverty.
I heard from the speaker, Kate O’Brien, Capacity Building Director for Groundwork USA, that there was an effort to increase community engagement for a new redevelopment project in her hometown in Maine. She attended the initial kick-off meeting and pointed out the lack of inclusion from the very neighborhood they were looking to help. She asked, “How can people who do not live in the neighborhood make decisions for the residents?”
When asked by the panel how she would handle this issue, Kate took on a new approach to getting the community involved by including the neighborhood’s young adults. They made up a large percentage of the neighborhood’s population. The ultimate thought was involving the youth would help the future of this neighborhood and might get other adults involved as well.
She gathered a team of teens, and they completed the outreach for the project. They went door-to-door and conducted surveys of their neighbors, gathered their data together, and learned how to input this data into Excel. They also learned about public speaking and presented their data to the city council. They were taught how to complete a resume that included this work experience and how to make themselves marketable as a young worker. As part of the program, the teens were fed each night after school and were paid for their work. This let them feel involved in the big picture of the project and they learned lessons in responsibility while keeping with deadlines.
Ultimately, Kate’s plan worked and is now being duplicated in other cities.
Community outreach is an important part of any brownfield program. Our team recently held a community engagement event in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
A new way to look at community engagement
It’s always great to look at things from different perspectives. Each community we work with is different, so it’s important to take a step back and evaluate the neighborhood(s) we’re working in when doing community outreach. A certain approach might work in one community but not another, depending on many variables. That’s why we strive to bring new and innovative community engagement ideas to our clients if what they are trying is not gaining results.
We all benefit from land development, re-use initiatives, and investments in local communities. Inclusive, collaborative planning for brownfield redevelopment begins with meaningful community engagement through which projects become reality and residents feel involved through the whole project.
My advice: get involved where you are. As a community member, be engaged with what is going on in your neighborhood. We can all be a part of the puzzle to transform brownfields into beautiful spaces.