Community engagement offers promise

Flurries of questions and conversation filled the spaces between people in two rooms at Forager Brewery on Thursday. Discussions compared the difference between a tunnel and a subway, between 30-year-old plans and current proposals and between what the landscape looks like today and the potential for decades in the future.

Ultimately, the focus of the gathering hosted by Imagine Kutzky was Rochester's Second Street Southwest Corridor and what potential changes mean for the rest of Rochester.

Just as important, however, is what such an event means for the city and its residents. Conducted in an informal style, the gathering provided ample opportunity to connect with local activists, business leaders and city officials, all with the goal of sharing ideas and gathering information.

It's what we'd like to see more of as Rochester continues to grow: engaged communities, engaged groups and engaged individuals.

The numerous Destination Medical Center planning conversations showed us many in the city want to be engaged. They want a voice, and they are willing to listen.


The conduct Thursday proved that. As Rochester resident Greg Gallas noted, no one was shouting or demanding attention. Even as multiple conversations overlapped, few voices raised above the din that made it necessary to occasionally repeat comments or questions.

We'd like to see similar conversations start elsewhere. Nearly any topic in the public interest is fair game for such community events hosted by nearly any community group.

Last week proved the events don't have to be overly formal. They key is simply making the public aware and seeking open discussions where anyone interested is welcome.

Too often we wait for official meetings, which just as often can deter casual conversation and the free flow of ideas. Informal discussions can provide new insights and opportunities for new voices. Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik indicated as much during last week's council meeting. "Not every community discussion has to be a public hearing," he said, regarding a separate topic with increased public interest.

While such events won't necessarily be the road to fulfilling everything on a group's wishlist, they can be an avenue to raising awareness for any such list.

A key factor of success will be the follow-up steps. It's one thing to get people together to discuss an issue, but it's another thing to make sure the resulting ideas have the potential to develop.

The organizers of last week's meeting seem to be on the right track. Imagine Kutzky member Jessie Welsh said the information gathered, regardless of opinion, will be collected and reported back to participants via email and a formal report will be made during a future Rochester City Council meeting. She noted the goal is to share information, not necessarily push for an specific outcome. "It isn't really up for us to decide," she said, noting the group wants to help the city council make better-informed decisions.

Regardless of what decisions are made in coming months and years, last week's effort helps ensure more voices are attached and heard.


Hopefully, those voices also will inspire other such groups to add their voices to similar events aimed at helping shape our city and our region.

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