is that transparency i see?
It seems like I can’t even get to the coffee shop in the morning anymore without nearly tripping over some type of reference to transparency in the planning process. It’s like every time somebody gets up to wash his hands he has to say “Attention patrons of PJ’s. I’m heading to the rest room now. On account of the fact that I am so darned transparent I just wanted everyone to know that I’ve given everyone fair warning of this trip to the restroom and invite you all to join me. Please also help me spread the word that this emergency hand-washing event will be simulcast in Houston, Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Little Rock, and Memphis for maximum outreach to the Diaspora. In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that PJ’s buys its hand soap from the Shaw Group, but I’m making every effort to maintain a wall of separation between these economic issues and any substantive hygiene decisions. Thank you for your continued support during this difficult and busy time.”
What’s up with all this transparency? We could all just write it off as part of the rhetoric of citizen engagement, but I’m not sure that would be get at the real issues. It’s clear that the obsession with openness is designed to avoid answering tough questions about the recovery. Anyone who attended GNOF’s infamous Sunday Meeting knows that 500 voices can literally drown out the the rationality of any one argument. An open meeting does not always produce a greater volume of input. Sometimes it just creates greater volume.
Within the context of individual neighborhood planning meetings, the issue of transparency and openness is equally muddy. In the past months I have probably attended 100 such meetings, at which I have encountered the following outspoken regulars: Sustainable Energy Man, Submergable House Guy, Army Corps is Made Up of Alien Hybrids Dude, Unhumanly-Slowtalking Lead Poisoning Lady, and Enraged Jazz Fest Shirt Guy, just to name a few.
For a lot of people, especially those who are still emotionally battered by tremendous loss, community meetings have become much like group therapy sessions. They are opportunities to voice frustration, anger, hopelessness, and the fear caused by sudden loss of security. From within the paradigm of maximum citizen participation it is difficult, if not impossible, to curb these redundant, time consuming rants in favor of more “productive” discussion.
Am I saying that planning meeting attendance should be limited to a select few? Absolutely not. But what I am saying is that we may need to strategically limit such discussions. Therapy is best left to trained professionals. Neighborhoods have already waited 11 months for solid, implementable recovery plans. As Oliver Thomas argued at a recent City Council meeting, “We waited for water. We waited for food. We don’t want to wait anymore.”