This guest blog post from a partner organization reflects the work and opinions of the author and does not reflect action taken by Green Umbrella staff or board.
Guest Blog Author: Andy Meyer, AICP, Program Chair of the Cincinnati Section of APA, Senior Planner at OKI Regional Council of Governments
Quick Summary: The American Planning Association Cincinnati Chapter’s annual World Town Planning Day Workshop helped generate ideas and solutions for the Bond Hill + Roselawn Climate Advisory Group with Green Umbrella and Groundwork Ohio River Valley. Professional and student planners from across the Tri-state participated in making the event a success.
As a planner, I find the utmost satisfaction when people of different perspectives come together to solve urban problems. One such recurring endeavor, which I have been fortunate to be a part of for several years, is the annual World Town Planning Day event sponsored by The Hamilton County Planning Partnership and the Cincinnati Section of the American Planning Association. World Town Planning Day is observed every November 8th, and on (or near) that date, the aforementioned entities host a day-long workshop focused on generating rapid plans centered around a specific community and an issue. The work is carried out by professional planners, planning students from University of Cincinnati and Miami University, and stakeholders from the community.
The great thing about 2021’s World Town Planning Day, aside from being able to again hold it in-person after 2020’s virtual event, is that the event dovetailed into a broader planning process – the Climate Safe Neighborhoods Climate Advisory Group (CAG) for Bond Hill and Roselawn led by Groundwork Ohio River Valley and Green Umbrella. A CAG is a community engagement process focused on elevating the experiences and local expertise of historically underserved residents into local government climate planning processes. Coming on the heels of the UN Report on Climate Change and recognizing the inequities of how the pandemic has been affecting communities, these were the two topics we wanted to address for World Town Planning Day 2021 – Climate Change and Equity. I was fortunate to be invited to a meeting of the Green Umbrella Greenspace Action Team to learn more about a model one of my colleagues created. Savannah Sullivan, Green Umbrella’s Climate Policy Lead, happened to also be there to give an update on her involvement with Climate Safe Neighborhoods – Lower Price Hill had just finished their CAG and Bond Hill/Roselawn was just beginning. Here was a project that encapsulated both major themes we were looking to address in the 2021 World Town Planning Day. It was immediately apparent how the CAG and World Town Planning Day event would mutually benefit from collaborating.
Following some coordination with Savannah and Sophie Revis, Groundwork Ohio River Valley’s Climate Resilience Director, it was decided that the World Town Planning Day event on November 5, 2021 would serve as a brainstorming/project idea generating workshop for the Bond Hill/Roselawn CAG. The resulting ideas would be refined and vetted through the larger Climate Safe Neighborhood planning process and incorporated into the final resilience plan. Resident advisors from the CAG guided the planning process, and it was great that several of them were able to participate in the World Town Planning Day workshop.
Bond Hill + Roselawn resident advisors share history and resilience ideas with local planners during World Town Planning Day workshop at the Cincinnati ToolBank.
So, bright and early in the morning, a group of approximately thirty professional planners, student planners and faculty from UC and Miami University gathered at the Cincinnati ToolBank to kick-off the World Town Planning Day event. I opened the day with a quick introduction to the agenda and purpose. Following that, Savannah and Sophie gave a look at the purpose and goals of Climate Safe Neighborhoods and the CAG. Finally, the group heard from three resident advisors – Margeaux (pictured above), Nancy, and Phil. They spoke about their experiences living in Bond Hill and Roselawn, how they see climate impacts, and how solutions could help to bolster the community.
Following these presentations, the gathering was divided into teams to focus on various topics: transportation, housing, food systems, greenspace, entertainment (community togetherness), and stormwater management. These topics were prioritized by the CAG resident advisors. The groups were then given one hour to walk and explore the neighborhood. It was a sunny day, and the groups were left to chart their own routes through Bond Hill and Roselawn. The community members also suggested places for the groups to visit. When the groups returned they settled into a working lunch, and began to develop their ideas into a slide presentation.
For the final hour of the program, each group presented their resilience strategy ideas. It was amazing to me the variety and scope of ideas presented by each group, and the polish of each presentation. Also, I noted that it often was the students in each group who took the lead in presenting. There were greenspace strategies to mitigate the urban heat island effect and control stormwater runoff; ideas to increase the energy efficiency of the housing stock, increase walkability and enhance the comfort of walking in the neighborhood; and brainstorms on how to promote social cohesion in the community.
This last point was a revelation to me – something I hadn’t considered as part of a resilience strategy. Building social cohesion is vitally important to addressing acute community challenges. The community’s capacity to band together to meet a threat, take initiative to look out for one another, and share limited resources in an emergency is supremely important to building and maintaining resiliency to all manner of challenges. We have seen how much of a difference this makes in how we have collectively experienced this pandemic. Differences in how we view community and self gives rise to friction and inconsistency in community response. The impacts of the pandemic have also been felt unequally across the community. Some are more susceptible to getting seriously sick, while others have been impacted by job loss or disruptions in learning. I believe this is an extreme example because none of us had really experienced anything like this before, but I think parallels can be drawn to some of the climate challenges our communities face now and will continue to face: the effects of climate change, and the acute weather-related threats that come with it are also unequally felt. Improved social cohesion will help the community respond quickly, effectively, and with more sympathy. Simply, if you have a social connection with your neighbor, you are more likely to help them, or they to help you, in an hour of need.Overall, it was a great experience meeting and working with the professionals, community members, and students that came out for World Town Planning Day. It’s crucial that our efforts as professionals support community driven efforts like Climate Safe Neighborhoods. The final plan recommendations were presented virtually on December 8th, and it was great to see how the plan leveraged World Town Planning Day. I have to thank Savannah for making the connections and seeing the possibility in employing our planning event in the Climate Safe Neighborhood process; and thank you to Groundwork and Green Umbrella teams for taking a chance on turning over a portion of the CAG process to a group of outsiders; to the members of the Bond Hill + Roselawn CAG, especially Phil, Nancy, and Margeaux, for sharing their experiences, struggles, and triumphs with us; and finally, to all the professionals and students who gave up their Friday to make World Town Planning Day 2021 a success!