Building a Community Vision for the Aspen Area (AACP)
COLORADO ASLA 2010 SUBMITTAL FACT SHEET
title: “Building a Community Vision for the Aspen Area”, Update to the Aspen Area Community Plan.
location: Aspen and Pitkin County, Colorado
summary: The 2010 update to the Aspen Area Community Plan is based on direct democracy – that
every community member should have an opportunity to be involved in shaping the future of the Aspen
Area. The outreach process serves as a model for innovative and effective public communication and
engagement for communities seeking to gain broad participation in transparent and inclusive plan
purpose of the project: About every ten years, the City of Aspen and Pitkin County collaborate on a
character-based community plan for the Aspen area to help guide the Aspen City Council and Pitkin
County Commissioners in their decision-making. The unique process that was undertaken has many
elected officials, staff, and community members raving about its effectiveness and successes months
From the beginning of the process, both staff and elected officials wanted to gather public input for a
plan that would be meaningful and address current issues, including sustainability. This resulted in two
new chapter topics being added to the document – Environmental Sustainability and Planning for the
Lifelong Aspenite, in addition to Economics, Historic Preservation, Housing, Growth Management, Parks
Recreation and Open Space, Transportation, and Place-Based Plans chapters. These chapters address
both physical and social sustainability in the Aspen Area.
issues: For the 2010 Aspen Area Community Plan (AACP) update, the City and County were determined
to design a “bottom-up” process, driven by the general public from the beginning, rather than by a
series of committees. The last effort conducted from 1998-2000 used the traditional method of
establishing a steering committee. While there was initial excitement for the effort, attrition significantly
reduced participation over an 18 month period. When the work was done, critics described it as an
A challenging goal was established from the onset of the 2009 update processes- to create a plan that
truly deserved the name “community plan” that strove to reflect the entire community’s vision for the
Aspen Area. Rather than establish a variety of working committees that may or may not accurately
represent the Aspen Area’s many constituencies– the project team created a process and
communication tools to efficiently and effectively engage a large number of citizens in a meaningful
special factors: The engagement techniques and communication of materials required thoughtful
attention to the needs of the diverse of citizenry including full-time residents, second-homeowners,
tourists, the community workforce and more. Noon meeting were scheduled to accommodate the
commuting workforce. Mailed surveys effectively captured the input of second-homeowners. Specific
outreach engaged Latino and local youth of the community – groups often forgotten in traditional public
processes. By specifically targeting these groups, the process engaged a broad cross-section of the
community. Communication materials took on forms ranged from highly technical documents to
describe existing conditions and policies to quick and fun interactions.
Building a Community Vision for the Aspen Area (AACP)
procedure: Overall, the extensive process –which included, a website, blog, Facebook Group, Small
Group Meetings, a randomly mailed Community Survey, a “Jeopardy” game, and Large Group Meetings
engaged a large cross section of the community. Different participation options were designed to give
the community a variety of “entry points” to the process, allowed people with varying interest and
available time to take part in the process.
The public process culminated in the Large Group Meetings, attended by more than 400 people, where
the use of instant voting technology (also known as “clickers” or “Audience Response Systems”)
produced an egalitarian atmosphere and a sense of proactive engagement in civic life. The meetings
relied on solid information, a quality facilitator, humor, coffee breaks and a hands-on exercise to keep
the large audience interested and engaged. Each piece of the process built on the last, giving us clear
direction from the community at each step and enabling us to explain the rationale behind the
questions asked at the large keypad meetings.
role: The team designed the public involvement process and served as facilitators and presenters at the
Small and Large Group meetings, creators of a user-friendly website and public survey, and preparers of
the graphic communications. In developing the process, the team was strategic in the thinking of how
the City and County could best utilize internal resources and staff for cost savings while maximizing the
value of professional services.
It was especially important to have highly-skilled and neutral facilitators conduct the Small and Large
Group meetings, lending credibility to the process. No matter how unbiased the City or County staff is,
some members of the community will never believe they are unbiased. Therefore, hiring the team to
serve as outside facilitators was key to helping people comfortably share their thoughts and feel heard.
The team was able to keep the meetings on track, answer questions from the public and diffuse
sometimes abrasive confrontations. While the team collaborated with a large group of City and County
staff and officials to create the meeting content and communication materials , the presentation by the
team added to the sense that this was the community’s plan, not the staff or elected officials’ plan. In
the Landscape Architecture profession, the ability to facilitate communication between the public and
governmental entities is becoming increasingly important to ensure successful completion and
implementation of projects.
significance: The public process has so far engaged over 1,000 community members, including many
who have never been involved in planning before. This is nearly ten times the number involved in the
2000 AACP process and a significant number for a population of approximately 7,000. When the
meetings were over, 90% of the audience agreed or strongly agreed that they “liked this method of
public engagement.” The process is accredited with providing measurable and statistically valid input
from a broad cross-section of the population. The capture of this input provides a rare opportunity for
officials to adopt a highly informed and citizen-driven plan to serve as the over-arching guiding
document for the next decade.
The process included fun and humor, non-traditional planning activities, and easy methods of
engagement so that when we announce our next public process people will be ready and willing to take
part, providing a lasting value to the community long after the conclusion of the project.
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