According to all the business rankings guides, Des Moines is where it's at. We have the best incomes, we're the best place to raise a family, best place to be a young professional, and one of the best places to get more value for your real estate dollar.
Still, the city of Des Moines has a lot to learn about public input on public initiatives. The most recent example is the Court Ave. project proposed by Knapp Properties and HyVee. Let me state loud and clear: I have no idea which project is best for the space proposed. But that is the point! Input from downtown residents is what counts - and what is missing from the debate.
Here is a quick checklist for organizations needing to gather public input for a project in which public funds will be spent. The main keys to success are TIME and TRANSPARENCY.
- Clearly communicate the timeline and the process for public input. The Court Ave. project does not meet this simple test, because the public comment period was not announced far enough ahead of time and the project is on a "fast track" to completion.
- Set public meetings in locations where downtown residents are likely to attend. Vary the times and days of the week the meetings are held to allow more residents to attend.
- Publicize the meetings ahead of time in the newspaper, websites, and using social media.
- Educate community leaders and use them to get the word out about public input opportunities. For example, member of the Downtown Chamber should be briefed by city leaders and prepared to answer questions from their associates.
- Gather input and comments into an easy-to-read document and disperse this information widely.
After public input is gathered and published, take the recommendations seriously. If downtown residents are the key to the success of the grocery store, then they are the people we should listen to. Public officials sometimes rush through this process - with disasterous results. Let's slow down this train and listen to public input.