The Polk Streetscape Controversy: Thoughts on the Public Process

The Polk Street Redesign process showed that the quantity of meetings, in this case fifty, doesn’t necessarily result in a better quality of the outcome. I suspect that the contrary may be true: an overly lengthy process enables the formation of entrenched positions that tend to loose sight of overarching goals and the common good. A meaningful public discourse is one of the key attributes and strengths of a democracy and can advance the matter being discussed for the better; however, there is also the risk of too many factions and special interests fighting each other, resulting in a watered-down and disappointing solution. 

Perhaps the key for a constructive public process is the upfront agreement on goals and priorities, the individual commitment to participate and advance the project, and a right-timed but limited period of discussion that concentrates on quality and results. In the case of Polk Street, there should be no question that Vision Zero is the overarching goal that should not be compromised. Subsequently, the actual question of how to achieve this goal may result in balancing interests in favor of the common good and not being afraid getting creative, even if suggested solutions have not been tested before locally. This approach requires leadership on part of the city, education about issues and precedents, a committed community, and open-minded and creative community members.

One of the Polk Streetscape Working Group Sessions
(Photo by SF Planning Kcheng)