A Point of View

Keren Goldshlager, Journalism Student at the University of North Carolina

An international student adamant about the University’s potential. A middle-aged woman dedicated to improving the town’s emergency response system. A storm water management employee passionate about environmental protection. A business owner determined to increase voter turnout in local elections.

These are just a few examples of the more than 300 residents that attended the kick-off of Chapel Hill 2020 last night. These people had different opinions to share, but they had one thing in common: a love for Chapel Hill.

The voices of these citizens will form the backbone of the new comprehensive plan. Town officials hope to make the planning process far more participatory and community-based than it has ever been. In fact, the mayor has said that he wants to get 10,000 people involved. Based on last night, I think his goal will be achieved.

The kick-off had two parts: an open house and a meeting. At the meeting, groups of about ten sat at tables and discussed what they thought the key themes of the plan should be. At the end of the night, leaders – called “facilitators” – shared the main ideas that their groups discussed.

As I circled the packed auditorium and zigzagged up and down the rows of tables, I realized just how much goes into creating a plan of this scope. While one group discussed affordable housing, another talked about cultivating creativity. As one table emphasized Chapel Hill’s need for economic growth, another table was gushing about the town’s quaint atmosphere. I heard about the University. I heard about expanding the tax base. I heard about just about everything.

The most interesting part of the experience was seeing people from all walks of life participating as equals. There were businessmen in button-downs quietly listening to the opinions of librarians in wide-rimmed glasses. There were town council members in t-shirts passively taking notes as small-business owners took charge of group discussions. I was enthusiastically welcomed to every table I wandered up to, even though I’m only a lowly junior at UNC.

All in all, I think the night was a success, although I’m interested to see how the dozens of themes that were discussed can possibly be narrowed down to a six key issues. How do you prioritize so many competing interests? The leaders of this plan definitely have their work cut out for them – but so do we.

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