In the late 1990s, when I lived in Washington, DC, I began making a career transition away from the Internet industry. People were not only being “left behind” because of the digital divide. They were also being excluded from the decision-making that was shaping their access to their communities “off” the web.
Fortunately, my Internet skills help me shift to the new focus of my career: ensuring equitable access to public space and to urban/neighborhood planning efforts.
As a first step, I began attending conferences across the country on topics such as the privatization of public space, equitable development, community governance, and “online tools to strengthen neighborhoods and connect communities.”
After attending a transportation forum in DC, I was taking the bus back home when one of the other riders asked, “Weren’t you at the forum?”
We struck up a conversation. I happened to be talking to DC’s head of transportation. When he asked me about my work, I explained that I had a background in Internet consulting but wanted to get into urban planning. He took my card and said he knew the perfect person with whom to connect.
He was right.
He introduced me to Mencer (Don) Edwards, arguable DC’s top facilitator of public dialogue and the owner of Justice & Sustainability Associates, LLC. Don became my mentor and hired me as a contractor. I began by managing PublicSpaceForum, a website that Don had founded, which helped local residents find and discuss information on local planning projects.
Thanks to the opportunities opened up by Don, I worked as a public involvement consultant and facilitator for a number of DC-area urban and transportation planning projects.
The most significant project I worked on was the revision of the DC Comprehensive Plan. At one of the meetings leading up to the bid for the project, I sketched out a model for constituency development and showed it fellow team members, hesitant because I was the least experienced person at the table.
My colleagues loved it. This model became pivotal to our (successful) bid and to the public engagement process itself, as it focused on access and genuine public participation versus the recruitment of last-minute public “buy-in”.
In a memo to the team, Don later wrote: “Corinna is the architect of the famous ‘Quadrangle Strategy’ that is the foundation on which ALL the rest of what we did for public involvement rests. On behalf of everybody on the project team and all the residents who will never know how they came to be informed, educated and engaged as well as they did, Corinna, ‘thank you for everything’.”
My work on the plan inspired one of the team members to include my profile in his book, Becoming an Urban Planner: A Guide to Careers in Planning and Urban Design, in its chapter on public participation.
In line with my commitment to equitable placemaking, I proposed a collaboration between the DC Office of Planning and DC’s Office on Latino Affairs. Based on my recommendation, the city held its first roundtable of local Latinx leaders and outreach workers to discuss strategies for building meaningful Latinx engagement in local planning efforts.
I worked on other projects as well, serving as Community Outreach Coordinator for the 18th Adams Morgan Transportation and Parking Study.
I taught workshops on topics like equitable placemaking and online engagement at conferences like Neighborhoods USA and the annual conference for the Community Reinvestment Coalition.
For the National Building Museum, I served as a volunteer faculty member for the organization’s Design Apprenticeship and CityVision programs. In the CityVision program, local middle schoolers work in studio teams to explore DC neighborhoods, develop creative solutions to address community needs, and defend their designs to a panel of professionals.