Public Participation as Resource for Distressed Cities

Facilitator: Joe Rees
In conversation with: Valerie Lemmie, Ken Reardon

Public participation is foundational to democracy, yet meaningful participation is rarely achieved due to resource and time constraints for both members of the public and the government organizations responsible for engaging the public. More fundamentally, public leaders and government agencies often lack the knowledge and experience needed to build meaningful participatory processes that provide input, energy and can identify directions for progress on difficult public problems. This challenge is compounded in cities and towns in distress.

This panel will explore public participation for distressed cities not only as a necessary process but as a resource for taking on the most difficult problems. Dr. Ken Reardon director of the Graduate Program in City & Regional Planning of the University of Memphis brings years of experience as a leading scholar and practitioner of participatory action research, engaging residents in East St. Louis, Ithaca, Memphis, New Orleans, and others to lead in planning for equitable, safe, and positive futures. Valerie Lemmie, District Director for Ohio Congressman Turner, former city manager of Petersburg, Virginia, Dayton and Cincinnati Ohio, a scholar-in-residence at the Kettering Foundation, and an Inclusive Management Fellow with the Center for Public Administration and Policy, also brings years of experience as a leader in public participatory efforts. Dr. Joe Rees of the Center for Public Administration and Policy will facilitate a discussion that explores ongoing challenges to plan for public housing in Memphis, and efforts to include the public in a broad range of civic challenges in Dayton, Cincinnati, St. Louis and elsewhere.

Ken, Valerie and Joe will critically explore these real world participatory efforts, the benefits for cities and towns, and the difficulties and challenges. The panel will draw on the theoretical ideas surrounding participation and the reality of participatory efforts on the ground to raise questions and draw some conclusions about the value and importance of public participation.