Face-to-Face: Making the Return to In-Person Engagement

A screenshot from the Transportation PPN’s Zoom Coffee Chat.

Last month, ASLA’s Transportation Professional Practice Network (PPN) hosted an informal Zoom coffee chat for Transportation PPN members as an opportunity to connect and share their experiences and insights on the selected chat focus: returning to in-person engagement, virtual approaches that are here to stay, and how to center community voices in landscape architecture practice.

Ryan Booth, ASLA, PLA, Design Associate at Alta Planning + Design, kicked off the conversation by sharing ways to bring back and improve in-person engagement events.

While traditional forms of engagement can be resource intensive, not inclusive, and may be dominated by a few vocal participants, other formats can be more inclusive by bringing the information to the community. The first example Ryan looked at was the Lincoln Avenue Complete Street Walk and Talk for a project in Walnut Creek, California.

Walk and Talks are an opportunity to communicate technical information to a broad audience, and to be more creative with in-person events. The format also encouraged the community to share their walking and biking experiences from along the corridor, making this event a real two-way street of information exchange. Go beyond the community meeting in a windowless room. Make them actual events!

Dan Nabors, Assistant Bureau Chief for Arlington County’s Transportation Engineering and Operations Bureau, explains proposed streetscape changes during the Walk & Learn: Street Design with a Transportation Engineer event in Rosslyn, VA, this May. / image: Alexandra Hay

Something like a Walk and Talk can also piggyback on to established events, like farmers markets or food truck pop-ups. Another example: the nonprofit WalkArlington recently hosted Walk & Learn: Street Design with a Transportation Engineer, with the starting point located right next to the weekly farmers market in Rosslyn, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. In addition to refreshments and a swag bag (with light-up shoelaces!), walk participants received handouts on the Rosslyn Transportation Study, Vision Zero safety guidance, and QR codes to learn more. The Walk & Learn included stops at intersections where design changes are being planned, a look at demonstration projects—another form of engagement that Ryan covered with the Transportation PPN—currently in place, and called out streetscape features participants may have easily walked by before (like Rosslyn’s first floating bus island, and the different types of bike lanes that exist).

image: Alexandra Hay
A parklet was one stop on the Walk & Learn. / image: Alexandra Hay
image: Alexandra Hay

Beyond walk and talks, demonstration projects are a way to help people visualize what is possible, and also test solutions—by seeing just what (and what doesn’t) work.

While in-person outreach is coming back, adopting a hybrid approach to engagement allows for greater reach and more efficient collection of community input.

Key outreach strategies include: online surveys, virtual community meetings, interactive web maps, project websites, and virtual concept boards—and, many of these can be applied in tandem with in-person initiatives (for example, a feedback survey about a demonstration project to glean insights from users’ experiences).

While there are many options for outreach and engagement, each with advantages and disadvantages, it’s important to remember that the ultimate goal is a built project or plan that has wide community support, and that reflects local values and needs. To fulfill that aim, outreach should be a two-way street that involves the project team educating the public about a proposed project, and the public educating the project team about local knowledge, values, and attitudes. To facilitate this interchange, landscape architects should be comfortable using a range of strategies, both in-person and virtually, that complement one another and broaden the spectrum of community members taking part in the planning process.

Want to learn more about ASLA’s Transportation Professional Practice Network (PPN)?

Or, not sure if you’re already a member? You can check by logging in to the ASLA website and seeing what’s listed for your PPN(s), located under the Activities / Orders tab. If you are not currently in any PPN, or would like to switch PPNs, you may do so by completing this form.

If you are new to the Transportation PPN, we encourage you to explore our webpage, join our LinkedIn group, and read through our posts for The Field. A reminder for any writers or aspiring thought leaders out there: all ASLA members are welcome to write for The Field—submissions are accepted on a rolling basis.

If you would like to be more involved with the Transportation PPN on an ongoing basis, any member of the PPN may volunteer to join the PPN’s leadership team. The commitment would be a monthly Zoom meeting with like-minded professionals and volunteering to support one of the PPN’s resources. Learn more and sign up to be a PPN leader.

3 thoughts on “Face-to-Face: Making the Return to In-Person Engagement

  1. Erin July 13, 2022 / 9:07 am

    Really interesting post, I’m glad I came here.

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