January 15, 2007


Over the weekend I had a disagreement with a friend, someone whose goals I generally share. It reminded me of the reasons I started this site, and the reasons I keep working on Dryden politics and community.

The disagreement was over the importance of process versus the importance of getting a particular desired result. I know, I know - anyone who talks too much about process is bound to be boring, while results are what everyone wants, right? Just hand over the results and don't waste our time.

Except... well, that's the attitude that drives me crazy in local politics and local projects. Getting things done is important, yes, and fortunately a lot of things do get done.

Unfortunately, we need to do more than just get things done. We need to include people, need to get them out of their houses, and need to involve them in the conversation. There's a huge divide between expecting local government to just happen - someone will take care of it - and feeling that local government is a part of our lives, something that both affects us and includes us.

The first thing a community needs is community. The Town of Dryden's sense of community is stretched thin, across a lot of neighborhoods and interest groups. Sometimes those groups and neighborhoods see themselves as competing, but a lot of the time something worse happens: they don't even notice each other.

My hope here, and in the other projects I'm working on around Dryden, is to get enough people interested in talking about Dryden to grow conversations. Those conversations can happen here in comments, in people's houses, over cups of coffee, or at Town Hall - but I really do want people to talk.

They don't have to agree - they won't. I don't have visions of a happy Dryden where Democrats and Republicans, developers and environmentalists, tax-haters and services-lovers come together in some strange glossy advertisement with everyone smiling. They just need to share their opinions, and sometimes their time, and even though everyone won't likely get what they want, the results will reflect more of Dryden than what a few people who happened to be on a committee wanted.

I know that even this is difficult, and the people who serve on those committees know how hard it is to get input. Input tends to come only after a lot of work has been put into results, though that's hardly surprising. It's hard to comment on things that don't yet exist, and early surveys can't possibly produce the kind of results that looking at a draft will. ("I know I wanted change, but this???")

Hopefully this site will make it easier to have those meaningful conversations earlier in the process and with more people, and eventually we'll have enough people involved that public involvement won't seem like such a strange idea.

If you have any more ideas for how to get there, let me know!

Posted by simon at January 15, 2007 10:07 PM in
Note on photos


KAZ said:

You said, "Input tends to come only after a lot of work has been put into results." I would add from experience that the kind of input you get in such cases is routinely negative and often surprised and aggrieved because "no one told us" X or Y was happening. Inclusion is good, early inclusion is best--but first people must be able to identify where they live, and perhaps a couple of reasons why they live there.

Simon said:

I wouldn't be so sure that all the feedback is negative, though negativity has a way of bringing people out to meetings. The Dryden Comprehensive Plan, for instance, had a fair amount of positive comment in its final passage process.

Yes, it would help for people to know where they live, and to think about why they live there. Hopefully that's something this site can help, at least for Dryden residents.

Mary Ann said:

I couldn't agree with you more about the importance of getting people into the conversation. Time consuming though it is, it's still the best way to get results.

In fact, you're right that building that conversation is an important goal in its own right. We need to move toward an understanding that government is not separate from the neighborhood. This is the fundamental Democratic viewpoint that Barack Obama described in this September speech.