We have been enthusiastic participants in the revision of Chapel Hill’s comprehensive plan since it began in September. Now as the community heads into the second half of the Chapel Hill 2020 process, we ask: Is this where we intended to be four months before the plan is complete? We haven’t yet formed a community vision upon which to build meaningful goals and objectives.
The enthusiasm of the staff and leaders of Chapel Hill 2020 has been impressive, but it has not translated into a large amount of diverse participation nor especially coherent planning. There have been a variety of ways for people to give input, but many of the opportunities thus far have felt rushed or have suffered from a lack of clear structure or leadership.
The best solution we know of to improve both participation and the process is time. The Town currently plans to have Chapel Hill 2020 completed in May, after spending less than 8 months at work on the plan. Other communities including Durham, Ann Arbor, Charlottesville, and Fort Collins have spent a minimum of 18 months to develop their comprehensive plans, and some took much longer than that.
We believe the process should be lengthened to ensure that the plan is thoughtful, inclusive, and complete. We need more time to learn about each other and our community, and to explore our common values that should form the foundation of the plan. We hope the next Chapel Hill 2020 meeting will give participants an opportunity to discuss and give the Town feedback about the process itself. If it takes a few extra weeks or months to enact changes that will make our participation and deliberation more effective, it will be well worth it.
Chapel Hillians are sometimes derided for our desire to talk about issues at length. This seems like a prime opportunity to use that skill to our advantage. This is long-range planning. Let’s take the time to get it right – we won’t get a second chance.