June 14, 2020
  • Opinion

Improving community engagement during coronavirus

By Richard Holman

Many leading experts tell us that life in the new COVID-19 world will likely not return to any previous sense of normalcy. Adapting to a new world of social distancing has come with challenges and losses. Schools, businesses, concerts, family gatherings, sports leagues and so much more will adapt or perish.

Many of us, as community leaders, feel increasing concern for the future of participatory democracy. Even in isolation we need to retain our voice to propose solutions to our community challenges.

Equitable long-term benefits can only accrue when all are at the table and have an equal voice. Engaged citizens are informed citizens. Timely and relevant feedback is essential to our leaders to resolve city, community, school and even street issues.

In our isolation, it becomes an even bigger challenge to engage on issues of crime, development and social programs and policies. Our community council meetings depend on representatives from Police and Fire Depts. and the Mayor’s Office for updates, but even during the best of times these meetings often have too many empty chairs.

To further complicate this, most community council meetings have been cancelled in recent months. Some have found technology-based alternatives to face-to-face meetings but their sustainability is in question. Some of the issues include having a robust enough platform that both accommodates everyone and allows comment.

Equal access also means ensuring that our neighbors have the computers, monitors, cameras, microphones and internet connections needed to actively participate. Libraries that were once a resource used by many for internet access, are currently not an option. Traditional town hall meetings where broad-based community issues had been addressed in the past now present an unacceptable health hazard.

I have proposed to city leaders that a public access television network could be a solution using a call-in format for comments and also scrolling important resource information 24/7 in, at least, English and Spanish. This is an example of where a community brainstorm is needed; it will take all of us to devise what communication works best for all, while observing social distancing.

While efforts to address communication move forward, issues of impact continue to emerge and grow. Newspapers, social networking, and local news provide some information concerning the impacts of things like the Inland Port, electric utility projects and earthquake preparedness.

However, this does not facilitate interaction. With the new pressures of adapting to post pandemic life, we have an opportunity to develop a more effective way to both inform and listen to each other.

We will not be going back to life as it was anytime soon. Let’s use this opportunity to build the best community engagement for all residents.

HolmanHeadShot.jpgRichard Holman is the Westside Coalition Chair and a Rose Park resident.