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Phoenix mayor launches community-based city plan initiative

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PHOENIX – Submitting ideas online, community forums and impromptu public events are just some of the ways that residents of the nation’s sixth-largest city will be able to add their voices to the upcoming general plan update.

“It’s time that we really get out there and talk to the people of this city,” Mayor Greg Stanton said at Thursday’s launch of planPHX. “The reason we’re going about it in this way – as community-friendly as possible – is because we want to hear from everyone.”

The initiative will have citizens answer key questions such as “What do you love about Phoenix?” and “What’s your big idea for Phoenix’s future?” The centerpiece of the effort is the manner in which residents will be able to offer input.

“We are about to undertake something that nobody would have thought possible even as short as 10 years ago,” said Mo Stein, chairman of the initiative’s leadership committee. “And that is the most robust opportunity to listen to people about the future of this city that’s ever been accomplished.”

The results gathered for the rest of this year will lead to more focused questions in 2013. Final approval for the plan is expected in 2014.

The general plan update will guide major decisions, such as developing neighborhoods as well as areas along the light-rail line. The last update was in 2002.

In addition to the usual slate of forums, community members can now visit to make their voices heard. On the site, they are able to submit ideas as well as view and endorse those of others.

As incentive to do so, those who participate will receive points toward rewards such as a voicemail greeting from Stanton – worth 800 points – and a tour of the Phoenix Police Department’s crime lab, which is worth 1,000 points.

Stanton also will appear unannounced around the city – whether at food trucks, coffee shops or sporting events – to gather ideas from the public.

In the interest of gathering a diversity of viewpoints, Phoenix City Councilmen Daniel Valenzuela and Michael Nowakowski will host a Spanish-language community forum in November as one of the 12 meetings scheduled as part of planPHX. In addition, content on can be translated into more than 60 languages.

Stein likened the process to a reality show he dubbed “The Biggest Listener.”

“One thing I can tell you it’s not going to be is another big notebook that’s going to sit on my shelf for 10 years,” he said.

Dawn Gilpin, an assistant professor of public relations and social media at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said she was cautiously optimistic that the initiative can increase civic engagement because it offers multiple channels for contributing.

While calling it a vast improvement over previous attempts to solicit ideas, she said the effort may prove too open-ended for some people.

“It’s just like poems,” Gilpin said. “There is free-form poetry, but most poetry has rules – and that doesn’t stifle it, that helps you figure it out.”