Raleigh’s plan for Dix Park should be conceived right there among its more than three hundred rolling acres, with diverse groups of people trying out diverse sorts of activities.
That was the word from a veteran parks and communities expert who talked to a crowd at the City of Raleigh Museum Wednesday.
A visionary plan that contributes to an “inclusionary, participatory democracy” can’t be crafted in a traditional public hearing with politically experienced people presenting mainstream ideas to an accommodating staff, said Mickey L. Fearn, a professor of the practice at N.C. State’s College of Natural Resources and a former deputy director of the National Parks Service.
More than seventy people filled and spilled over available seats for the event, presented by Raleigh’s Urban Design Center as part of a lecture series.
“Dix represents a very special part of nature,” Fearn said. “Rather than try to come up with the proposal, we can create a sense of small experiments.”
Duane Beck, a member of the Mordecai Citizens Advisory Committee, noted Fearn’s emphasis on planning the park by bringing in members of specific minority and ethnic groups, instead of homogenizing all nonwhite citizens into an undifferentiated sector.
“I think what he was trying to do was to find structures and opportunities for people across ethnic and racial barriers,” Beck said.
What Fearn called activity-based public engagement can take the place of a more formal process that draws “professional public citizens,” he told the crowd. As an example, Fearn postulated taking the public high school nearest his house and turning students loose on what they’d want to see in the park.
“Take a civics class at Enloe and say, ‘Do Dix,’” he said. “How much would they learn about democracy? I think this is going to be an experiment in democracy.”
Raleigh City Council member Russ Stephenson, who attended the noon lecture, says he’d like to see Fearn and Mary Lou Addor, from N.C. State’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute, hold a session for the entire council on citizen engagement and social equity issues. Their expertise would be especially helpful as the city crafts a new community engagement board, Stephenson said on his website.