OPINION

MORPC Matters: Inclusive engagement leads to better community planning

Níel Jurist
Guest columnist

Last year, many communities experienced unprecedented challenges in the wake of a global health pandemic and civil unrest resulting from acts of aggression toward Black and brown communities.

The combination of these events caused many of us to take a moment to stop, reflect and access our own efforts as it relates to diversity, inclusion and equity.

Historically, we know that diverse communities often have been left out of providing input on the community-planning process. Without their opinions, we know that plans have been produced and projects have developed that are not representative or responsive to the needs of the entire community.

Níel Jurist is director of communications and engagement at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

As a regional council of local governments, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is composed of 75 members representing cities, counties, townships and villages across the central Ohio region.

Our goal is to bring together communities of all sizes and interests to collaborate on a future of economic growth, development, transportation, energy and environmental stability.

One of the ways MORPC seeks to gain public input is through regularly engaging our members and their constituents early in the planning process.

Before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, MORPC held open houses, inviting the community to learn more about projects and initiatives occurring in the region. At these meetings, participants had the opportunity to see the plans and ask questions to MORPC staff members.

MORPC also provided an opportunity for the community to provide comments online.

But this all changed after the pandemic arrived.

As we began to take a closer look at our engagement efforts, we identified missed opportunities with being inclusive.

Over the past year, we worked diligently to restructure our Community Advisory Committee, a committee composed of representatives from across the region who provide input into the planning process and other initiatives. After receiving valuable input from our members and our community partners, we made a concerted effort to fill vacancies with more diverse members, representing organizations that provide services to underrepresented populations.

Recognizing the benefits of inclusive engagement has helped us rethink and reshape our engagement and outreach strategies. We know that gaps in broadband access and barriers to attending meetings make it difficult for some to participate in the process.

So, when the world reopens, MORPC is committed to meeting people where they are. 

Whether it’s community events, beauty and barber shops, health clinics, recreation centers, area commissions or being invited to speak at your next organization’s meeting, we are available to share updates on projects and initiatives that are important to the entire community, not just the vocal few.

Currently, there are opportunities to share your input on a variety of key projects, including the Regional Mobility Plan, Active Transportation Plan and LinkUS Mobility Initiative – a transformational and comprehensive mobility initiative that will provide equitable mobility options to everyone.

We invite you to join us in the conversation and in our efforts to plan for a more equitable and prosperous region for all.

Níel Jurist is director of communications and engagement at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. MORPC’s purpose is to bring communities of all sizes and interests together to collaborate on best practices and plan for the future of the region.