Community Engagement Key to Park Avenue Project Success
This month, the Clackamas County Board of County Commissioners accepted the work of the SERA-led Park Avenue Community Project and approved the effort to move forward into a code amendment process. This is a major success for a community that over the last decade has undergone multiple previous plan efforts never to be approved. Community members now have Guiding Principles (PDF) and a Framework Plan (PDF) to guide future development, and a code amendment process underway as a next step toward making their shared vision a reality.
So what made this project successful where previous efforts stalled out? Working in direct partnership with the local community.
Before our team even entered the picture, a group of volunteer residents, business owners, and property owners were assembled as a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to oversee the project. The SERA team met with the CAC monthly, and the chair and co-chair participated in all management meetings with staff from the County and Metro. But the role of the CAC went well beyond reviewing and approving work products. The team also held multiple open houses, hosted focus groups, and published online surveys to gather broad public participation.
2020 has presented unique challenges to collaborative community design, and public engagement in general. In January and February, the MultiCultural Collaborative led the CAC through the development of an Equitable Engagement Plan to guide public participation for the project. But as the pandemic caused shutdowns in the spring, many of the techniques outlined — coffee discussions and music parties hosted at CAC member houses, outreach to local church groups and schools, and open houses that were planned to be hands-on and highly interactive — all shifted to online forums and surveys.
And just as we started to get into the swing of online engagement, wildfires erupted across the state, directly impacting our project area. A key site in the study area served as an evacuation site, hosting camps and providing emergency services for those displaced by fires in the county. And our final open house for the project was held while the county remained under evacuation orders.
Through all of this, the CAC was a lifeline for the project. They called neighbors, encouraging them to participate; set up yard signs around the neighborhood and on their own properties; walked door-to-door to deliver project information and meeting notifications (while at a safe social distance); and remained composed participants and presenters even as they prepared to flee their homes at a moment’s notice.
We are very pleased by the successful outcome of the project, and the Board’s approval on Dec. 2, 2020. We’re also incredibly proud to have worked with an outstanding group of citizens committed to making their neighborhood a better place, even under such unprecedented circumstances.