Suwanee gets public's input on planning

SUWANEE -- Deputy Police Chief Janet Moon walked along the sidewalks of Suwanee's Town Center on Tuesday afternoon, carrying a sign that asked simply, "What's your idea?" That's the question on the minds of all city leaders and stakeholders, and the coveted answers will be coming in from now through July 28.

The Suwanee 20/20 Vision strategic planning Open House kicked off June 23 and will come to a close at the end of the month. Participating, believe it or not, is actually fun thanks to Interface Studio, the Philadelphia consultants hired by Suwanee to design the feedback-gathering process. On any of the days during which the open house is held, residents, business and property owners can just walk into the studio at 3930 Charleston Market St. and give city leaders a piece of their mind.

And that's exactly what they want.

In a community-friendly venue complete with front porch rockers and a nostalgic candy and popcorn counter, participants can actually "spend" play money on areas that they think are the most important -- public safety, arts and culture, transportation and more. And as in real life, when the money runs out, decisions have to be made and priorities set. The strategic planning process also gives participants the opportunity to provide input regarding trip times to city destinations, preferred modes of transportation, and even a parks and trails wish list.

"When you hear about community planning, community engagement is critical," said Suwanee's public information officer Lynne Bohlman DeWilde.

"So often, people feel like they're being handed decisions in which they have no say. This is different," said assistant to the city manager Jessica Roth. Once Interface Studios designed and set up the input-gathering venue, they stepped back and turned the reins over to a volunteer steering committee and city staff members to run.

Even children are participating in the open houses, with crayons and big ideas driving their input.

"It's important for children to participate and to see adults doing this," Roth said. After all, the future of Suwanee is its smallest citizens.

"This is pretty exciting for us," said Roth, adding that once the initial feedback is gleaned, facilitators (city residents and stakeholders who volunteer for the task) will meet at roundtable discussions to further examine the issues and goals set forth by citizens. From those discussions, plans will begin to take shape. Those who wish to volunteer to be facilitators can email Roth at jroth@suwanee.com.

Participants' ideas and comments are displayed along one wall of the Open House studio, and citizens can check back in throughout the month of July to see visual displays of how the feedback is coming together. Weekly drawings for $20 downtown gift cards will be held at the Open House.

The official 20/20 Vision interactive website is www.suwanee2020.com.