"Don't call it a comeback - I've been here for years!" I hear LL Cool J yell that iconic hip-hop phrase as I write this blog. A hip-hop battle cry, I picture him, bouncing around the boxing ring, trying to knock out the naysayers who ever said his raps were less than great. Well I feel the same way. I feel like figuratively knocking out those people who said that this community was and will never be great again. The one's who say "I told you so". Yep I'm planning a comeback.
I'm working in a suburban community in my city. Like other suburban communities across the country, it has been affected by changing demographics and economy. This community has also been affected by negative perception issues charged by several 'high-profile' crime events. Despite this the community is still fighting to improve its stature and to prove that it has never lost its greatness; somehow I to have ended up in the ring.
As planners we use the public engagement process to 1. gather people's input and 2. educate people about good planning principles. But let's also start to think about the engagement process as way to 1. dispel myths and provide facts, 2. garner support for community initiatives, 3. help market an area around something positive such as a planning process. I've find myself doing all of the latter.
I'm fighting myths about dying retail, the location of affordable housing, and socio-economic myths that residents have about each other. In all rounds I've found it hard to keep my balance. Often hit by negative comments from the public or the residents themselves even. But I keep fighting. I fight with facts, examples, and even my own resident-testimony. I never give up the good fight, because if I do, what will that leave? It could leave the City with a community in unrest, still struggling to understand how to move beyond its social ailments. It could leave a community that has yet to reach a consensus about its future - and where there is no vision the people shall perish. It could result in an balanced development pattern that is top heavy on what developers want and lacks what the people want. So I keep fighting.
When you're planning a comeback, that's just what you have to do. As planners sometime we play that role - the battling boxer in a ring, fighting to save the integrity of a community that we know can be great. We began using tools and techniques that help us spread a message that goes beyond land use, but get's into the soul of a community. This is where people live, work, attend school, raise their families, go to church on Sundays and the grocery store on Saturday's - so if we don't fight for them who will?
LL Cool J went on to release 13 albums with his record label. This was a great feat in the volatile world of hip-hop. But those iconic words helped bring him through a legendary rap career. I hope those words allow me to bring this community through a legendary comeback and onward to a sustainable future.