A collaboration between the state of Iowa and the city of Ames is bringing community engagement directly to those who listen with less relevance.
On Saturday noon to 5 p.m., Iowa students and city officials will be spread out to four different locations, each offering their own theme and activities. Aside from the downtown stop, each neighborhood was intentionally selected to reach the people of Ames who are least involved with the city, said Associate Professor Alenka Poplin.
“We particularly wanted to go to hard-to-reach neighborhoods … where there’s less response,” Poplin said. “Traditionally, the city would host an event in one place … The city says it’s not a very successful approach, so they’re looking for new innovative methods in which they can reach everyone.”
The collaboration began about a year ago, Poplin said. City officials such as City Manager Steve Schainker and Councilwoman Gloria Betcher shared their government experience with students.
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In return, the students brainstormed new techniques for city participation, ending up sculpting Saturday’s events. In addition, students had the opportunity to apply their studies to a real environment.
On Reliable Street, activities will focus on the future of the city, which includes gardening, origami and a board game. The senses will be the focus of Franklin Park with a breathing game, a sensory path, yoga and theater on climate change.
East Seventh Street will focus on technology with digital mapping and virtual reality. The final location, Fifth Street and Burnett Avenue, will focus on art, where a community mural will be painted. The spot will also feature live music and a meeting of artists.
Graduate student Vishnu Priya Sairamesh, who studies architecture and community planning, leads the location of Franklin Park. As people participate in their activities, he said they will collect feedback on what textures they are attracted to and why.
This feedback can be used when designing public spaces, adding which textures people find most pleasing. The event will also provide feedback to the city on its climate action plan and the 2040 plan, which will drive the city’s growth over the next two decades.
►Month: How can Ames residents participate in climate action planning? The City Council reported on the engagement plan
“We basically wanted to find ways or methods to attract people, and engagement strategy itself is a huge issue,” Sairamesh said. “It’s something really important for every city right now.”
The struggle for resident participation is not exclusive to Ames, but a national issue, Schainker said. Community events and town hall meetings tend to attract the same people, leaving a part of the community detached. This disproportionately affects minority groups and low-income residents, Poplin said.
Often, people are already consumed with their own work, their families, and any other organization in which they participate, Schainker said.
“So it’s not a festival that we try to attract everyone from the city. We try to focus on the neighborhoods, even though everyone is invited to it,” Schainker said. “Civic engagement means we can solicit input, get people’s opinions on policies before they (the council) do it and that’s what it’s all about.”