Meeting yields ideas for Elm City

Batting around 100 ideas ranging from building more bike lanes to developing conflict resolution classes in schools, community members and city aldermen spent Sunday listing the problems facing the city and bringing forth creative proposals to solve them.

The session was orchestrated by former Ward 1 Alderman Julio Gonzalez ’99, who designed the brainstorming process around the principles of a management theory called “design think” that he learned in business school at Stanford University. Aldermen at Saturday’s session began by writing their constituents’ most common complaints on Post-it notes. They then broke into small discussion groups alongside members of the community invited by Gonzalez to brainstorm solutions to the types of problems that had been identified earlier.

The focus throughout the process is on the volume and range of ideas, Gonzalez said, and on developing solutions based on the needs of the clients — here, New Haven residents — rather than on the ideology of the politician proposing the idea.

“We had good volume [of ideas] and decent quality, and I think people were excited,” he said.

A survey is now circulating among the participants asking them to prioritize the 100 solutions generated, and the aldermen will consider the results and try to implement in the upcoming months some of the measures suggested, Board President Carl Goldfield said. The measures range from the ambitious, like creating a “Youth Court” to mediate fights between juveniles, to the more manageable, like regulating the use of noisy leaf-blowers.

Some attendees questioned the effectiveness of the meeting, because only seven of the 30 aldermen stayed for the entire session. Ward 2 Alderwoman Joyce Chen ’01 said it was unclear how much enthusiasm there would be for following up on the most popular ideas. Chen said most of the community members, who had been invited by Gonzalez, were fairly young, and the inclusion of older members of the community could have changed the type of solutions proposed.

“What you can have with older people are solutions that might be more practical, if less exciting,” she said.

But Goldfield, who invited Gonzales to lead the session, said the 100 proposals developed could have a sizable impact on the city. One of the most intriguing proposals, Goldfield said, was a new program that would seek both to lower New Haven’s unemployment rate and to accommodate infrastructure necessities by training and hiring some residents to help repair local sidewalks.

New Haven resident Henry Lowendorf, who had participated previously in “design think”-type brainstorming situations in the commercial sector, said he was satisfied with Saturday’s outcome. But he cautioned that this type of brainstorming can be difficult to translate effectively from the commercial to the civic sector, because participants can come to the session with widely different ideas of what sort of change the city needs.

Robert Grzywacz, chairman of the New Haven Historic District Commission, said he thought the process could be useful and represented a welcome effort on the part of the Board of Aldermen to solicit public input. Grzywacz, who was not at Saturday’s meeting, said he had participated in an informal public discussion with Mayor Bart Guida during the 1970s, but this was the first time he had heard of similar activity since.

Although the process could generate constructive ideas and input for the aldermen, he said, the ideas would inevitably represent only a portion of the citizens’ needs.

“It all depends on what … people you get in the room,” Grzywacz said. “It’s [the aldermen’s] responsibility to be informed and take our views into consideration.”

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