University City

Residents can help develop what makes a “livable community”

A group working to improve the quality of life in Mecklenburg County is looking for people to help.

The Mecklenburg Livable Communities Plan wants residents to help develop a communitywide vision and corresponding goals of what makes a “livable community.” The group is accepting applications to join through Aug. 30.

Group leaders are trying to recruit about 150 residents to meet in small groups once a month for the next two years to help create and provide feedback on a unified community vision for the county. The group plans to ensure representation from across the county and to match participants with their area of interest or expertise.

The Livable Communities plan aims to consolidate programs, policies and governing documents between Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the surrounding municipalities of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville, among other things.

The idea for the livable communities plan came in part from a 2012 city-county feasibility study that found there was no unified vision that brought local plans and programs together or established goals with the help of citizen engagement.

Work groups of roughly 30 members each will represent different dimensions of the plan, which might include community character and culture; safety; environment and health; education and youth; economic security; housing and transportation.

A 10-member oversight committee – which will include city and county officials, leadership from Foundation for the Carolinas and the area municipalities – will help guide these work groups.

Leslie Johnson, Mecklenburg County interim assistant county manager and oversight committee member, said this level of citizen and official collaboration will help identify duplication or gaps in services and programs, as well as create opportunities for partnerships with businesses and nonprofits that help improve quality of life for everyone in the county.

The first phase, estimated to take one year, will develop a communitywide vision that focuses on the economy, environment and social equity. Johnson said they will ask elected officials and the larger community for feedback, hopefully by May 2014, through public meetings and social media.

The second phase, which is also expected to take a year, will develop tangible goals and ways to measure progress toward them. After the second year, the final plan will again be proposed to the community at large for adoption, she said.

“The process is designed to include broad community input, represent agreed-upon priorities and minimize (disagreement),” she said in an email.

Johnson said they often hear the question, “What will this look like in the end?”

“We don’t know yet, because we’re allowing the community to frame it,” she said. “How do we collaboratively agree on what we want to make our community, what actions can move us to that goal?”

If the community identified safer streets as a goal to work toward, Johnson said, work groups would consider how to fuse individual efforts – such as Davidson’s pedestrian and bicycle safety plan, and the county’s “Project Safe Neighborhoods” program – and whether additional services or programs are needed.

“They’d (look for ) a way to fuse all these efforts to help us reach that overarching goal.”

The eventual plan could increase options for grant funding, as well as give policymakers a chance to organize and communicate what their common goals are.

While applicants will commit to the two-year process, Johnson said, there are likely to be future opportunities for continued citizen involvement in tracking and reporting on plan’s goals.