When you think of a sustainable community, what do you see? Visions of wind turbines, solar fields and healthy open spaces are likely to come to mind. If you delve deeper, you might envision fresh vegetables grown from local farmers being sold in the streets and corner stores; or a broad network of pathways where pedestrians and bikers can harmoniously travel alongside buses and cars; or art installations and murals lining the neighborhood streets.
Sustainable Jersey’s vision also includes the behind the scene components that allow these resources in a town, or facilitate such initiatives to happen. After all, a climate action plan can only happen if policies are adopted, money is budgeted, and staff is assigned to implement and monitor the plan. And we don’t want to forget the citizens who were involved to make it happen.
An engaged citizenry working to implement sustainable practices is as necessary to a thriving community as a willing governing body. Without community members to participate in a Master Plan visioning process, a planning board is just spinning its wheels. Equally as necessary to citizens expressing the importance of green building standards is a mayor and council committed to adopting such policies.
There is more a municipality can do to encourage citizen participation than simply creating positions to serve on a Green Team. Research on the municipal budget, proposed future plans within municipal departments, and various other public records are major pieces to adopting sustainable practices.
Local governments can help facilitate this process by:
- Providing access to public information in a timely fashion,
- Gathering feedback on public services and proposed policies through online channels in order to reach a broader audience,
- Live streaming public meetings online so that people who cannot make the in person meetings can watch from their desk or home and still be kept up to speed,
- Sharing emergency alerts, public notices, and other important information via digital outlets, public access channels, and hard copies distributed throughout the community.
We believe there is merit to the old adage that “an informed citizenry is an engaged one.”
Through Sustainable Jersey’s Community Information & Citizen Engagement initiative, we will provide our government leaders with a new tool box that will help them strengthen or create the infrastructure to support citizen engagement. Look for new Sustainable Jersey actions slated for spring 2015.
As Program Director for Community Engagement, Lauren Skowronski leads the Sustainable Jersey Community Information & Citizen Engagement initiative which facilitates online engagement between local governments and their citizens. Lauren also supports grassroots regional hubs across the state with leadership development, capacity building and technical assistance.