Champaign citizens get chance to shape county

By Danielle Gaines

Champaign County residents are being put in charge of the county’s future direction through a visioning project called Big.Small.All. The project begins this week with a series of countywide community dialogues.

At the dialogue meetings, citizens will get a short introduction to the visioning project. In smaller groups, citizens will discuss ideas to improve Champaign County with the help of trained facilitators. Each group will share its top five ideas with those in attendance at the end of the meeting. The ideas generated from each meeting will be posted to the project’s Web site.

“The purpose is to drive a vision for the future with an action plan supported by a consensus of as many people as possible,” said Bruce Knight, co-chairperson of the project’s steering committee.

The name for the project was chosen to encourage everyone to be involved.

“We especially want to attract those people who are not generally involved in county meetings,” said Frank DiNovo, director of planning and community development at the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. “We want to involve the working class, the poor, minorities, students and hope that everyone who is able will be involved.”

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April Getchius, associate director of capital administration and development at the University, said student involvement is also important.

“University students are attracted not only to the University, but also the community in some way shape or form,” Getchius said. “They live here for four years or longer in most cases, so it is important that they come out and talk about their community.”

Although the dialogue meetings will be held at different locations throughout Champaign County, committee members suggest residents attend a meeting in a different part of the county than they normally visit. A broader range of views at each meeting will lead to coordination of ideas in a broader geography and lead people to think of all county residents as their neighbors, DiNovo said.

Big.Small.All. is not a governmental planning project. The regional planning commission is involved to provide support. This means ideas are not limited to things controllable by government. At the meetings, non-profit organizations might create purchasing power agreements or small businesses may create joint marketing plans. At the end of the meetings, the citizens themselves will be charged with carrying out the vision.

DiNovo said he would like to see people move from the mindset of asking government entities to change things in the community to citizens taking the issues into their own hands.

“This program will succeed to the extent that people buy into it, take it seriously and follow through on the findings,” DiNovo said.

The dialogues are only the first step in a process that will span nearly one year. After the dialogue meetings, a community assembly will be formed in late January. The assembly will be composed of 150 to 300 invited individuals who represent a variety of interests. The assembly will prioritize the compiled ideas and create action plans to address the concerns.

The third and final phase will be a community choice workshop for the general public to prioritize the findings of the assembly. The third phase will take place in September of 2006.

“This is an opportunity for people to have their say in the direction of Champaign County,” Getchius said. “It doesn’t matter if they are grand ideas or small ideas.”