Five Takeaways from the ReImagine Reno Focus Group

From the cover of the ReImagine Reno Draft Guiding Principles and Goals [PDF]. A bike:kayak:car ratio of 3:2:1 seems about right to me.
As previously mentioned, I participated in the ReImagine Reno focus group at City Hall on Tuesday night. The format was decent, snacks were provided, and I think we got some good work done. Rather than marching through a recap, I thought I’d share a few things I took away from the session:

  1. There are a lot of people in Reno who are way more awesome than I am. Don’t worry, I was already aware of this, but it was brought home at the focus group. I spoke with people who are regularly biking more than a dozen miles each way to get to work, in spite of substandard bike infrastructure. I spoke with people who have owned businesses in MidTown for years and have been steering the city toward transit-friendliness and walkable neighborhoods the whole time. I spoke with retirees who are active and invested in the reinvigoration of Downtown as a walkable, attractive neighborhood. Renoites are a great bunch, and I feel lucky to have stumbled into their weird and wonderful ranks.
  2. Planning takes forever, and parts of it are boring. We are in Phase 2 of the ReImagine Reno process, where we are trying to define the specific goals that will guide the Master Plan. As in, we are literally dithering over the wording of the goals. This meant that most of the evening was spent debating the relative merits of words like “functional” and “comprehensive” and whether “encouraging” something is the same thing as “incentivizing” it (spoiler alert: it’s not!). I am a professional copywriter and I still found this shit crazy boring. However…
  3. Words are really important. The reason we spent a whole boring evening parsing synonyms is that the words that we choose to define the City’s overarching goals really do have substantive meaning. When we decide to develop a “functional” transportation system for all modes of travel, rather than a “balanced” system, we are deciding to focus on actual results – can I use this system to get from A to B? is it functional? – rather than on perceived equity. Much later in the process, when we’re trying to establish actual policies based on the overarching goals, we can point to this wording and show that it’s not enough that you put in a few bike lanes (there are lanes for bikes and lanes for cars: see? balanced!). Those bike lanes need to connect to each other and get me safely all the way to my destination (that’s a functional system).
  4. We all basically want the same stuff. I haven’t met a single person who wants Reno to become a dystopian resource-annihilating hellscape, and yet that seems to be what we all suspect of others who don’t share our views on the nuanced topics of city planning. I don’t want cars to be wiped off this earth – I get a lot of benefit from mine and I recognize that even if I went car-free, the society I depend on could not. At the same time, the more car-oriented transit advocates at these meetings probably don’t just want to pave over the entire state and call it good. We just need to see that there really are ways to accommodate everyone. Proper street design and thoughtful planning can allow us to have a 20-minute town that you can still navigate safely and easily by bike or on foot. We all basically just want to get around a pleasant city without fearing for our lives or sanity. We can get there.
  5. Everyone is appalled by the current treatment of the majestic Truckee River. Can we just start here? Can we make it so that no crappy institution can ever back itself up against the Truckee ever again? Can we as a metropolis make a pact to dust off this natural and economic jewel and to never mistreat it for as long as we live? The new Virginia Street bridge is a great start. I vote for more of that, forever.

You can learn more about the ReImagine Reno effort here. I’m hoping to participate and update throughout the process, and as always your thoughts and input are welcome in the comments.


One thought on “Five Takeaways from the ReImagine Reno Focus Group

  1. The feeling was mutual. It was awesome sharing a focus group with you. Love the blog! Patrick

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