Monday, July 5, 2010

Citizen Juries?

Here's an interesting idea from a Vancouver Sun writer:

Some are beginning to realize, however, that the process of soliciting the public's opinion on how our cities should be developed has become out of hand, and public engagement is seriously hindering our progress in designing cities that will allow us to keep things going in a healthy way long into an uncertain future. 

Some are floating the idea of a citizen jury process to replace the free-for-all that often allows immediate neighbours, who represent an obvious special interest, to trump the opinions of the broader community. 

Noted new urbanist architect Andres Duany of Florida, who has led two Vancouver area charettes -- weeklong, intensive collaborative community-design workshops -- recently declared that the current state of public participation in planning decisions is out of control. He says "an absolute orgy of public process" is hindering progress in building more livable cities. 

Duany and others are advocating the exploration of citizen juries composed of randomly selected and demographically representative citizens who sit as a panel, learn about an issue, hear from expert witnesses, deliberate together and develop well-informed, common-ground solutions. 

What do you think?

It's not often that I disagree with fellow urbanists like Duany or Mouzon, however, in this case my first reaction is to do just that. 


Why? 

Mainly because I wonder how this citizen jury approach would escape the same challenges that planning commissions currently do. After all, (in theory at least) planning commissions are supposed to engage in much of the same process outlined for these citizen juries. Yet, as the article suggests, these meetings often become gripe sessions where very little thoughtful deliberation and debate occurs. 

Now, I guess if you closed the citizen jury sessions to the general public, you could avoid that potential chaos--but, then again, couldn't you get the same result by just closing planning commission meetings too. I suppose I'm a bit skeptical about creating another layer of land planning bureaucracy before first trying to reform the existing layers. So, rather than codify citizen juries for development projects, I would recommend amending existing laws regarding planning commission appointments and hearings to address these challenges.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2010/07/citizen-juries.html

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