Public Engagement In The Elements

by Christopher Dunne

​​Mother Nature doesn’t care about your community outreach.

That’s the impression we’ve gotten this spring from our public engagement efforts around Reimagine RTS, Monroe County’s transit system redesign planning process. One of Highland Planning’s core principles is “go to them” and for this phase of the project, that ideal has manifested itself in a series of outdoor pop-up events aimed at spreading the word about the project’s draft recommendations as well as gathering community input to refine those recommendations.

The day of the draft recommendations’ public release, we were out at Irondequoit Plaza, where several RTS bus lines currently connect. It was immediately apparent that the wind would blow away our posters, banners and paper handouts if we didn’t batten down the hatches. Fortunately, the bus stop offered some shelter from the storm:

​The next day, we were at Frontier Field, taking advantage of the flood of Clean Sweep volunteers who were cashing in their free tickets to see the Rochester Red Wings after a long morning of picking up trash and making the city sparkle. We were stationed in the stadium’s “breezeway,” (a significant understatement) which forced Sue and I to ditch the easels and get creative with our poster board displays. “Frontier Fort” (pictured below) secured our materials against the wind:
Our tent provided some much-needed shade at the Brighton Farmers’ Market on Mother’s Day:
But when we opened it up the next weekend at the Ease on Down Thurston Road event in the 19th Ward, all was not well. Using a roll of duct tape and the third set of hands provided by our ASL interpreter, Andre and I jury-rigged the tent sufficiently to ward off that morning’s drizzle. It also kept the sun off of our backs during the early hours of the Twilight Criterium downtown later the same day. Albeit with a noticeable sag:
Lessons learned? (other than that May in Rochester is essentially four seasons packed into a single month).

If you’re doing public engagement in the great outdoors:

1. Be prepared to improvise.

There aren’t too many similarities between jazz and public engagement but when the wind is howling and the rain’s coming down, you need to be ready to get creative.

2. Keep your survival kit handy.

Bungee cords, tape, jugs of water, whatever it takes.

3. Your stakeholders will thank you.

Not everyone can make a public meeting or will remember to check out your online survey but when they get the chance to have a one-on-one conversation out in the community, more often than not they’ll appreciate your efforts. Even if your tent’s a little worse for the wear.

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