By Michelle de Lima
What we’ll do when we finish our programs, and more specifically, how we’ll live the values and principles of social justice-grounded planning that we are learning at UEP, is a question that I’m sure occupies many of us. Last Friday’s information session with UEP alums who work at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) was a fantastic opportunity to see how many “practical visionaries” are doing just that. MAPC is a regional planning agency that works on a wide range of planning topics: public health, transportation, housing, climate, clean energy, community planning, environment, arts and culture, economic development, public safety, and digital equity. MAPC functions as a mission-driven, public consultant for an enormous variety of regional and municipal planning and policy projects.
With a large team working on so many issues, across 101 towns and cities, MAPC’s work could easily become siloed, but it’s clear that collaboration across teams, departments, and projects is a high priority. Through their relationships with one another and the communities they serve, staffers aim to learn, share and implement best practices for equitable and impactful work.
I particularly appreciated learning about some of MAPC’s community engagement strategies. For some projects, they’ve used a community liaison model that focuses on reaching the people who aren’t typically connected to these processes. They’ve tried to make the problem definition stage more open-ended by asking community members what climate issues they thought needed to be addressed. Some of the liaisons become more engaged participants, serving on committees or being hired by the city or town. For the urban agriculture plan MAPC is working on with the City of Boston, they’re trying a community committee model that brings (paid) community members in at the preliminary stages of the process to set priorities and draft recommendations. The UEP alums who spoke to us were candid about acknowledging the challenges of participatory work on contentious issues and emphasized the importance of leaving enough time for community processes, being open to people’s objections, and relying on oral communication and strategic partnerships to reach people typically excluded from decision-making.
On a personal note, speaking with some folks at MAPC last year and learning more about their work was the thing that finally pushed me to apply to UEP, after having my eye on the program for several years. Given that, I’m so grateful for the chance to connect with program alums who are working at MAPC and see how they’re putting their visions for equitable, transformative planning work into action.