A conference I’m attending soon in Toronto* that revolves around the increasing urbanization of the world and related issues, asks the question “How can citizens most effectively be involved in this massive re-shaping of the urban environment?”
As it happens, this relates to what I’ve been asking myself for the past year or so: “How can we motivate citizens to get effectively involved in the planning and development of our neighbourhoods?” I spend more time thinking about this every week, because it seems more urgent to me all the time. (Density vs. environmental damage from suburban sprawl etc.) Of course the harder it is to get people involved the more urgent it seems, but that’s the way life is.
A small group of us in the neighbourhood are trying to develop a pro-active approach to ‘urban planning’ policies around our little neighbourhood. And as we chat, I am increasingly convinced that such explorations alone will not be enough to bring about change. Not without some kind of communication strategy.
Urgency makes me think in terms of ‘shortcuts’. So on the subject of motivating people to start thinking about urbanism with an open, creative mind – I begin to muse about communication shortcuts.
There are such ‘tools’ in the field of psychology. Like “dialogues”. It may sound cold and manipulative, but needn’t be at all. Structured dialogues can be learned and used to reduce conflict in communication, so what harm could there be? (I know, sounds like ‘famous last words’).
‘Active listening’ dialogues, for example, can help us hear and understand the fear or stress someone is feeling, and actually make us more compassionate and accepting of the ‘other’ — less threatened ourselves by their opposition. And there are experiments in communication among ‘opposites’ taking place.** What an exciting world is possible, thanks to the internet!
When all is said and done, the greatest barrier to progress will really come down to the non-threatening communication of ideas. It’s not really about whether a ten storey building is appropriate for our community. It’s not about whether it’s dangerous to welcome supportive housing next door for people with psychoses. It’s about fear, and how to deal with it. It’s about helping others buy into our dream, instead of seeing it as a nightmare.
To reach ‘the opposition’, we need to welcome it, embrace it. At the end of the day if we don’t get better at that, we are lost.