Work commenced on the Iron Horse Park Master Plan in 2012, the conversion of an abandoned 40-acre rail yard. Situated in a dense residential area, the mile-long site has numerous properties backing up to it, resulting in a significant stakeholder group. The rail yard has returned to a state of disturbed wilderness, overrun with invasive… Read more »
Work commenced on the Iron Horse Park Master Plan in 2012, the conversion of an abandoned 40-acre rail yard. Situated in a dense residential area, the mile-long site has numerous properties backing up to it, resulting in a significant stakeholder group. The rail yard has returned to a state of disturbed wilderness, overrun with invasive scrub and grasses. Neighbors were resistant to the idea of redevelopment, even for a community resource like parkland, with the NIMBY group a vocal fixture at community workshops where its opposition threatened the project.
Our team in the San Francisco office developed a multimodal public outreach strategy. Its goals were to reach a broader representative sample of the Dublin community, to engage them in various activities to elicit objective input, and to create a structure for tracking and measuring this information in order to inform design and planning decisions for the new park.
SWA generated several tools to obtain feedback from a wide sample. Residents were provided with a site plan to annotate, identifying features they value. “Idea boards” were posted in prominent locations around the site and along an adjacent bike trail showing a range of possible park functions. Space was included for residents to describe their vision for the new park. Finally, an online survey was developed to reach the broadest respondent group possible.
We held a “listening session,” a walking tour of the site fostering interaction with community members. Moving this exercise to the park site allowed for a rich dialogue to develop. Residents shared personal memories of the site, such as hearing the whistle of a nearby train as a child or watching their own children play in this urban wilderness.
The information we received was recorded, quantified, and analyzed. As inhabitants of the fastest- growing municipality in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dublin residents are concerned that the collective memory of their history is rapidly receding. Based on these results, the SWA team developed a master plan that embodies a mix of regional eco-zones with an overlay of industrial and cultural elements—a curated landscape of features unique to Dublin. The park neighbors largely dropped their opposition when the data demonstrated that the values of their fellow citizens coincided with their own. Our outreach efforts were further validated as the City Council unanimously approved the park master plan.
At the time of writing, our team is working on another park planning project: Dublin Crossings. This 30-acre community park located at the city’s center will include an ambitious program of amenities to serve the expanding population. This project is not subject to the same NIMBY pressures as Iron Horse; however, new special interests have emerged with residents lobbying for the inclusion of specific programs into the final plan.
To achieve balanced feedback at one recent community workshop, we developed a role-playing scenario in which residents were required to advocate and defend their positions to one another. Participants were split into groups with equal representation for different interests, and then provided a large gridded board representing the park site—the “game board”—and a collection of several dozen tiles representing a program for consideration. Each group was required to negotiate among themselves to fill the limited space on the game board/park site. Our team members circulated around the room and listened into the conversations, which proved to be a revelatory experience. Beyond their own special interests, each resident has a vested interest in the success of the park. This dialogue between neighbors went a long way toward achieve common ground and good will, and the resulting program mixes were surprisingly balanced. Following the meeting, our client remarked that this was the first community workshop he has attended where everyone went home happy about the results.
The success of this process would have been impossible if we relied on a single method for registering public opinion. By demonstrating that the values of the larger community are less divergent then they initially appear, our team was able to turn a potentially combative public process into a productive effort with an effective outcome.
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Posted by Justin Winters, Ashley Langworthy, and Chris Hardy