by Allysha Lorber, ASLA, and Elisabeth McCollum
Just a few weeks ago, we didn’t anticipate being told to “stay-at-home” in quarantine while a global health pandemic ravaged public health and the economy. For those of us who work in the transportation industry, we’re used to projects lasting for years with a schedule of milestones set in place, one leading to the next. Spring is a time when many projects reach that critical milestone of a public meeting. Community engagement is part of the critical path, and project decisions can’t be made, allowing the project to advance, without meaningful opportunities to hear public input. How can we engage with communities when we must be “socially distant”?
Projects across the country are being put on hold, unable to reach that critical milestone of a public meeting while our constituents are safely staying home, busy working overtime performing an essential service, or worse—battling sickness themselves. However, public engagement can still occur—even if it’s in a different form than we originally planned.
Virtual public meetings aren’t new, but now more than ever, they are being embraced as an effective tool to engage with community members and project stakeholders. Meetings can be hosted on a variety of platforms allowing presenters to share presentations and discuss ideas with small groups of community members. These meetings can be advertised in all the same ways that traditional in-person meetings are publicized—on websites, through the press and social media, and by mail. Paid advertisements can also be effective at getting the word out and directing people to a website where they can connect.