A Voice of Your Community

By Eric R. Kizak, P.E.

For the past six months I have been serving on my community’s planning board.  During this brief time several things have occurred to me. 

First, there is a great need for this type of community service.  Many boards, mine included, regularly operate with open positions.  This makes it more difficult to maintain a quorum and effectively conduct operations.  Along with this is the public perception that you must be an expert planner to serve.  You do not.  You only need to have a commitment to the community.  Planning staff generally provide a copy of the pertinent regulations to new members.  And planning staff and season board members will assist with plan reading and interpretation if needed. 

Secondly, it is amazing how quickly you will start to be asked questions like “What is being built over there” and “What makes one development good and another bad?”  Addressing the first question will be easy as you likely voted on the matter.  The second question, not so easy.  But from my perspective, good development must be connected to community.  This is not to say that it must be a master planned community development in the sense of Stapleton in Denver, CO or Seaside, FL or a new urbanist development like Kentlands in Gaithersburg, MD. 

What it does mean is that it must reflect the culture and ideals of the community and be applied in a proactive and sustainable manner.  At least a modest level of green construction features should be incorporated in all new construction.  Adaptive reuse should be considered as a viable option.  While a good development need not be connected to a public transportation hub, it should accommodate non-car based access.  A development, particularly in an urban setting, should not be denied because of limited available parking. 

But community isn’t just where you live; it is also where you work, shop and play.  So if you want a better community, then take action.  Look at your community’s web site, identify what boards have open positions, then contact your local representative and ask to be nominated.  Before you know it, you will become an “expert” and a voice of your community.