Overcoming Oppositional Politics through Connecting with Values
“Save Our Good Old Houses!”
“Affordable Housing Now!”
“Keep Buckman Free!”
NIMBY, BANANA, PROGRESS, SPECULATION, GENTRIFICATION!
Each year the voices seem to be getting louder in the ongoing debate about ongoing change in our communities. Change has always been part of the American story, with most western cities still in their first generation, typified by wooden houses. Even East Coast cities are seeing only the second or third iteration of neighborhoods. As with all change, people erupt with concern because they fear losing something they care deeply about.
When I led the re-thinking of the Regional Transportation Plan for the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, we tried to avoid the typical positioning that always seems to arise with change. We did this by guiding people through a set of questions to discover what they saw as important values and then tied these values to investment strategies. Amazingly, groups as diverse as health professionals, low income Hispanics, freight carriers and environmentalists identified the same set of values!
In a series of articles from the Sightline Institute on effective communication, I found this one on focusing on shared values and using stories to bring people together to solve problems to be most insightful.
I recently gave a speech (video of this talk ) to the Vision2Action coalition in Olympia, Washington. In their community, they are wrestling with tensions between a desire to stop sprawl in the surrounding countryside and those that oppose any change in the old urban core. I used a story of my childhood to help them think about what they really love about their community and what they would like to see be better. Rather than attacking sprawl, which at least on of the organizers was hoping I would do, I talked about how I grew up in a small city, free to roam because my parents felt it was safe and because there were places to go and friends to go with. Establish common ground around values like security, health, independence and community, I could then go on and talk about how different urban forms and strategies either helped us achieve those goals or hindered them.
(Spoiler Alert: typical sprawl development is less healthy, less economically successful, less vibrant, less safe and causes children to be obese, dependent and less social than denser, walkable, mixed use neighborhoods typical of urban areas.)