As you’ve likely heard: Water Street needs a refresh. We’re upgrading the underground, which will impact the above ground, and the City’s been asking how we should go about it. It’s the latest in a string of comprehensive “engagements” the City has undertaken with the public to help develop policies and carry out projects.

Hopefully you’ve heard of at least a couple of these engagements, because an informed public is a key component of successful engagement. We recently launched a new Parks and Open Space Master Plan that will see us better maintain and enhance all of our outdoor recreational space. The engagement was wide-ranging, a lot of fun, and led to a beautiful (and usable) document.

There’s also Kenmount Terrace Community Park, the newest upcoming addition to our beautiful municipal parks collection. We struck a steering committee for that project, which consisted of residents of that community to help ensure it will meet the needs of the people who live nearby.

And who could forget the 2014 Winter Maintenance Review which led to, among many other improvements, enhanced sidewalk clearing? That review makes me particularly proud, because it clearly demonstrated that Council and staff are taking resident concerns seriously and are prepared to make changes where needed.

These efforts represent a dramatic shift that’s occurring in how City Hall interacts with residents. Instead of just deciding what services to provide, how to provide them, and then reacting to complaints, we’re now truly including citizens in the process.

We’re literally saying to everyone, “What should we do? How should we do it? Ok, here’s what you said and what we’re going to do based on that input. Sound ok?” I think that’s a big deal.

So, back to the Water Street project. We asked the first question, “What should we do?” and right away we encountered one of the complexities of engagement: that’s a very broad question, and we got a lot of answers. Our staff and consultants took all that input — which was gathered online and in person — and filtered it into consumable themes.

One theme was “More a Destination, Less a Thoroughfare.” It’s a street, yes, but that doesn’t mean we want to just drive past. Water Street is, and should be, a hub of activity. Let’s make sure any changes only enhance its appeal as a place to meet up, dine, dance, and do business.

One approach to achieving that goal is another theme, “A Flexible Street.” I love this one because it can enable lots of fun things to happen like street festivals, sidewalk shopping, and perhaps a professional busker or two to add to the auditory ambiance.

See what’s going on here? We’re taking the real concerns and ideas of real people and using them to direct how we build our real city. Isn’t that really awesome?! This is just the beginning. Right now we’re forging a working relationship between the many small businesses along the Street and the engineers who will carry out the major construction.

That’s a much more nuanced and focused component of engagement, but it’s all part of our new approach to doing things as a team — a community. What do you think? Want to chat about it? We’re all ears …