MYTH #5: Project sponsors don’t really need to listen to the community.

This myth is a corollary to the first. Even when we concede that project sponsors need to talk to community members, do we have to listen to what they say? According to this convenient fairy tale, one-way communication is enough; simply bombard the community with flyers, newsletters and advertising until the public knows the facts and magically becomes convinced of the obvious benefits of our proposal.

Not so fast! Standard public relations, mass mailings and advertising can actually backfire when negative feelings among neighbors arise primarily from lack of community engagement. If adjacent neighbors feel they have been ignored, raising a ruckus at City Hall may seem a good way to get attention for their needs. The same is true for community leaders and activists, who may be offended if they are not consulted in advance; they may affirm their leadership and importance by denouncing your project.

These citizens need to hear from you directly – a brochure in the mail will only make them mad. That’s why I once counseled a Colorado housing developer to canvass adjacent neighbors. They were duly impressed to see him go door-to-door, willing to discuss his project application in their living rooms and listen to their concerns with sincere interest. The personal touch and homage paid to their acknowledged stake in the proposal went a long way. That approach, combined with the fact that he listened and was responsive to specific neighborhood concerns, was instrumental in securing much higher densities for his project than surrounding subdivisions.

The key is to identify who to communicate with, how, and when. Developers usually need to actively dialogue with certain community stakeholders.

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