Editor: The Arlington County government recently staged a “missing middle” housing listening tour, supposedly to allow residents to share thoughts on the subject.
Unfortunately, the design of the exercise seriously limited the value we gained from it.
First of all, the county government began by spending almost half an hour presenting its views on housing, of course in the most favorable light, setting the framework for the discussion. There was no opportunity for people with a different perspective to present their thoughts during this framework-building phase.
Second, participants who tried to communicate outside the government’s strictly confined structure – for example, by using the chat function to make comments or ask questions – were told, in effect, to shut up. Open discussion and free flow of ideas were not desired. Communications were tightly controlled.
Third, the only opportunity for residents to provide input was during a highly regulated exercise. The county government posed several carefully framed questions, which assumed we are going to add new housing types. Participants had only a few minutes to think of a response to each question and then write something on a small virtual sticky-note. Then there was a brief discussion of the notes.
This means that the county government could not receive well-thought-out responses exploring the subject in depth and considering nuances. In fact, what they received were very short, off-the-cuff, conclusory responses.
If Arlington is going to make the right decisions for our future, the county government needs to be much more inclusive and welcoming of all perspectives. We have many residents who can make valuable contributions to the discussion; we may be able to learn something from them if we truly listen.
Bill Roos, Arlington