As Blacksburg revises its long-range plan, it solicited input from residents in a unique forum yesterday: Twitter.
Although 2046 is still 34 years away, the Town of Blacksburg has been hard at work revising a planning roadmap called “Blacksburg 2046,” the comprehensive plan for the 50-year future vision of Blacksburg.
The town reviews the plan every five years to make sure that it’s consistent with the changing vision that residents have of their town, and this year the plan is up for revision.
Most towns have a similar document that serves as a guide for their future, planning growth with foresight and intentionality.
“Versions of comprehensive plans began in the '70s or '80s. (Since then,) 96 major updates occurred and established 'Blacksburg 2046',” said Karen Drake, the comprehensive planner for the Town of Blacksburg.
Blacksburg's plan runs the gamut of urban-planning topics: sustainability and the environment, jobs and housing, parks and recreation, utilities, transportation and land use.
In order to get feedback, the town has turned to reaching out over new mediums.
Yesterday, the residents gave feedback by tweeting with the hashtag #bburg2046 from 2 to 5 p.m.
“We are trying different formats to reach out to more people to get their comments and inputs on the comprehensive plan,” Drake said. “We have a wide range of people in town, different ages (and) different technology comfort levels, and we want to appeal and reach out to all of that.”
Communications specialist for the town, Lisa Sedlak, emphasizes the locational flexibility.
“Even if you’re at work and maybe even if you’re in class ... you can still deliver your opinion about the town,” Sedlak said.
A group of town employees, including Drake and Sedlak, helped to run the Twitter feed yesterday. The group tweeted responses to questions from the Blacksburg Motor Company building on South Main Street.
“We basically said to the public, 'Hey, come chat with us about the plan, what are your questions, ideas or clarification needs?',” Sedlak said.
The event was a first in this format for Blacksburg.
“We have not done anything like this in the past, so this is a new thing for us. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, to use this medium as a way to get input from the public,” Sedlak said. “This is a perfect way to get feedback on this.”
Liz Roop, a senior public and urban affairs major, was at the event helping the town with their responses to the tweets.
“I was very pleased with the event's outcome and involvement level," Roop said.
About 15 citizens were actively involved by tweeting to @BlacksburgGov or #bburg2046.
“In total, the Twitter Town Hall involved 100 plus tweets through numerous conversations on the comprehensive plan topics," Roop said. "Additionally, citizens were able to follow the #Bburg2046 hash tag to read the conversations.
Another hope for organizers was that this new forum would reach students so they understand the important role they play in the community. While there is not a specific chapter referring to students and the university in the plan, Drake says that it’s intentionally and unavoidably weaved in.
“There is not a student or university component to the plan because we look at the entire town, which does include the Virginia Tech campus itself,” Drake said. “For example, the jobs and housing section talks about some of the housing challenges we have, and how that affects students.”
In order to do this effectively, Drake says it's important to reach out to students.
“I’ve reached out to all populations, graduate, undergraduate, international. We are really trying to reach out to the permanent residents in the town too,” Drake said. “With each of these age groups, everyone has a different concern or request or desire on how to balance all these needs and demands that the town has placed on it.”
According to Drake, sustainability is the biggest issue to students.
“It’s a new chapter to the (comprehensive) plan, and it’s a commitment of established town policies toward sustainability and the three facets that comprise it: environment, economics and social sustainability,” Drake said.
According to Roop, tweets exchanged among the Town and citizens have been recorded and will go into the comments summary. This summary will be given to the Planning Commission members on Monday.
These comments will have an impact on the final revision that will be merged into Blacksburg's comprehensive plan.
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