After noticing a lack of input from Wilmington residents younger than 40 in the development of the city’s comprehensive plan, the Wilmington Planning Department recently held a series of meetings targeting that demographic.
Named the Planning on Tap series, the comprehensive plan’s citizen-led steering committee hosted seven meetings from March 18-20, at various restaurants and bar establishments around town.
Wilmington senior long-range planner Christine Hughes said the meetings held outside of the downtown area were not well attended but there was a healthy turnout for the meetings held within Wilmington’s downtown district.
“We realized we weren’t getting a significant amount of engagement from the under-40 group so we wanted to come up with a creative idea,” Hughes said. “They are not coming out to the regular neighborhood meetings for some reason so we thought we would go where they might already be gathering.”
The last meeting of the series took place the evening of Thursday, March 20, at Goat and Compass on Fourth Street and Hughes said it drew the largest crowd with about 15 attendees.
Once completed, the comprehensive plan will serve as a guide for the long-range development of Wilmington for years to come, Hughes said, adding the things citizens at the Planning on Tap series expressed interest in were both similar and different to the topics brought up at the city’s neighborhood meeting series.
“Everywhere we go we are hearing a call for more sidewalks and bike lanes to make it safer to walk and bike around our city, so it was not surprising to hear that come out of these meetings as well,” she said. “But there was a lot of talk about the future. The talk about: ‘What can I do about the problems I have today?’ has pervaded our neighborhood discussions … so it has been really hard to get people to really think forward at those, and this group seemed to already be thinking like that.”
Wilmington architect J. Clark Hipp helped facilitate the meetings at Goat and Compass and Tazy’s Grill, and said discussions about big picture topics and long-range planning need to happen more.
“I hope that we can begin to address the anticipated growth of the city in a thoughtful and meaningful way,” Hipp said. “The potential population growth over the next 20-30 years is expected to be significant and if care is not taken to manage that growth in a positive way it would take away from the quality of life here, which everyone feels is one of the main things that draws them to Wilmington.”
This will be the first of any kind of comprehensive plan completed by the city since the 1940s, and Hughes said the planning department hopes to have a draft presented to Wilmington City Council in early 2015. The process is coming at a crucial time in city planning with more and more people moving from the suburbs back to urban centers, she said.
“Similar to how we saw an urban exodus in the 1950s and 1960s, we are seeing the reverse of that trend now; and whether we plan for it and prepare for it or not, it is going to happen,” Hughes said. “So we are really trying to get ahead of the curve with the number of people who are retiring or getting ready to retire and looking for a different kind of lifestyle, or the Millennials who are looking for a different kind of lifestyle.”
With the neighborhood meeting series wrapping up in May, Hughes said there would be a public meeting to display the city’s findings from the public input process on May 10, from 10 a.m. to noon at the New Hanover County Northeast Regional Library.