The timeframe for an unveiling of the Roefaro administration's master plan for the city has been pushed back yet again, meaning it will likely be late summer before it can become an official city planning document.It is better to be deliberative and to do it right, rather than quick for political expediency. But there is pause for concern . . .
First, the the Mayor's proposal for a new Master Plan was brilliant. The last full master plan was done in 1950, with an update in 1960. Master plans provide a vision of the city's future, enabling investors to find their own niches. They also provide guidance for public works projects should sources of money suddenly become available. Case in point: the stimulus funds. Had a new master plan already been in place, Utica would have been better positioned to respond to the federal request for proposals. The mayor was correct to start Master Plan process. . . . and good planning takes time.
A rather large steering committee was named over a year ago, consultants went about conducting public meetings to gather ideas, a public website, http://www.uticamasterplan.org, with the past two master plans went up. Things were progressing.
Various subcommittees of the steering committee were formed, each with its own focus. Neighborhood meetings concluded in January. The plan was discussed at City Hall in February. Some details of where the plan seemed to be going were released to the media such as extending the feel of the Memorial Parkway into West Utica and shortening the North Genesee St. bridge to reopen Baggs Square. Curiously, however, none of the details were posted on the website for public consumption and reaction.
In April, an open house was conducted. That was promoted here. Artistic renderings were released to the press, as were a few more details, such as the recommendation that EDGE have a permanently staffed office in Utica. If you had the time to go to the open house, you got to see grids prepared by the various subcommittees which listed the draft goals and paired them with proposed strategies for their accomplishment. The proposed strategies contained the few tantalizing details that got into the press. But unless you went to that open house, you did not get a chance to see or comment upon them.
Again -- curiously -- these grids with strategies never were posted on the website for public consumption and reaction.
Understandably, the grids were works-in-progress, and did not represent the Master Plan . . . only the direction in which it was heading. One would think that the subcommittees would have been interested in knowing the public reaction to their work. Were they on the right track? Were they representative of what the People of Utica wanted for their city? Or were they bad ideas, with a potential to cause harm? The website would have been the ideal forum for airing the proposals and getting feed back. It was not used. The ideas that seemed to generate excitement (or controversy) when they got into the press are no where to be seen on the Utica Master Plan Website for public reaction.
What had seemed to be an open process embracing the public's input now seems less so.
What was the point of the neighborhood meetings? What was the point of the subcommittees works? How were ideas processed? Ideas seemed to have been dumped into a big black box, and what happens to them while they are in the box, no one knows. The process is not transparent.
The skeptic now comes out.
We've been down this planning "road" before . . . as far back as the Calley [sp?] Commission in the early 1980s when the Utica Schools were consolidated (which entirely eliminated the neighborhood school concept and put all children on buses), but more recently with the New Hartford GEIS for the southern portion of the Town. Elaborate public meeting processes were conducted in both, supposedly for public input. But in the end, only the input that validated the ideas of those who controlled the process was accepted. In other words, the public participation was window dressing, to dupe the public into thinking that they played a significant role in the decisions that had already been made for them.
Is that what is going on with the Utica Master Plan?
It is too soon to say. The plan's delay could mean either that the public is being listened to and it is taking time for the ideas to be put together . . . or that arms are being twisted and scripts are being written.
It would be better for all if the process were made transparent, and more information posted on the website.