Rachel Engh

How can people who make decisions in city planning departments effectively listen, collaborate, and share power with people who live in the city? How can peoples’ stories be used to affect planning decisions?

In May, I graduated with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. In school, I learned how to make maps and run statistical regressions. I wrote surveys, interview questions, and focus group agendas. I made strengths/opportunities/challenges/threats diagrams and practiced voting on issues with dot stickers. I also learned the often dirty, narrow, exclusive, and racist history of planning. We discussed that as future planning experts, we shoulder the actions of past planners and should seek public participation in our work. And then we graduated.

Through working with artists, I’ve gotten to explore creative ways to collect peoples’ stories, more creative than administering a survey or conducting a focus group. Artists are storytellers, creating worlds with paint, words, movement. Planners also are storytellers, creating worlds with roads, buildings, zoning codes, tax increment financing, bike lanes. Real people live in these worlds and when planners collect and use these peoples’ stories, better worlds are built. Figuring out the most authentic, effective, sustainable, and creative ways to collect these stories and how to use the content of these stories to influence planning decisions will result in more voices at the table and hopefully more equitable cities.

—Rachel Engh, Master of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Minnesota

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