Corpus Christi Development Plan Receives APA Texas Award
The City of Corpus Christi’s Development Plan received the 2021 Public Outreach Achievement Award – Gold from the APA-Texas Chapter.
The City of Corpus Christi’s Comprehensive Plan (CP), adopted September 27, 2016, is based on a twenty-year horizon and requires the City’s nine Area Development Plans (ADP) to reflect the vision and goals of the CP. The CP recognized that the ADPs were outdated and would give direction to these city areas. The Downtown ADP was the first to be updated and adopted, followed by Southside, London, Flour Bluff and Padre/Mustang Island. The Westside ADP is currently being developed, with three plans remaining to be updated. As mentioned in the CP, ADPs provide direction for specific areas. The direction of each ADP was the result of robust, intentional and inclusive public outreach efforts, leading to adoption of the plans throughout each plan’s update/adoption process. Since the ADPs have not been updated in years, this process was an opportunity for the City to initiate community engagement that would garner input, reflecting the vision and pulse of its residents, businesses, stakeholders and partner entities, whose consensus will assist the ADPs’ implementation. In each ADP update, an Advisory Committee (AC) was created to guide the planning process and represent the area’s residents, business owners, students and stakeholders. The AC participation was essential to the development of the plans. The residents/stakeholders gave input regarding the future of the ADPs through multiple engagement events/activities, from online surveys to in-person community engagements, including a Community Open House and a four-day Community Think Tank. Recommendations identified in the ADPs are based on public outreach efforts from 2018 to 2021, which have resulted in community-driven plans.
Originality and Innovation
In all ADP planning processes, an Advisory Committee was created to guide the development of the plans and represent the area’s residents, business owners, students, and stakeholders. In particular, the Southside and London ADPs featured a Student Advisory Committee, facilitated by city staff, which represented six area high schools, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and Del Mar College. The Student Advisory Committee went through similar input exercises as the Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) and had a joint meeting with the SAC.
The Community Think Tank was a unique outreach event over four days. Participants attended focus groups, commented on draft vision themes and action items, and participated in a workshop facilitated by Texas A&M University AgriLife Extension. In addition, their Community Health and Resource Management (CHARM), a user-friendly interactive mapping tool, was meaningful in future land use scenario planning.
The robust public outreach approach was tailored for each area. However, all plans utilized online surveys through the MetroQuest engagement platform at the beginning of each process to identify issues and opportunities, during the middle of the process to give feedback on vision themes and policy initiatives, and before adoption to review action items and draft versions of the plans. In addition, a project website was hosted and updated regularly by city staff. The project websites also broadcasted previously recorded community engagement presentations and made available questions and answers submitted by community engagement participants at meetings.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, city staff and the planning team quickly adapted and converted all in-person Committee and community meetings and focus groups to virtual formats. In addition, a virtual open house was developed, where input and educational boards were displayed, and responses could be typed.
The ADPs’ stakeholder and community engagement were replicated in other city planning efforts and helped with implementation.
Implementation and Transferability
The need for an inclusive engagement process that reached all segments of the ADPs’ population led to tailored approaches for each area. Still, it led to the intentional use of various engagement methods, such as all meeting materials and presentations translated to Spanish during the Southside and London ADP process. The inclusivity of the engagement process allowed for multiple generations to give input regarding their now and futures.
Online surveys and virtual public meetings were scheduled when the pandemic upended activities. Instead of being canceled, the community and advisory committee meetings were moved online. The planning team used social media channels and constant contact messages to encourage participation in online surveys specific to each area. This allowed the team to continue developing plans and to keep the projects on schedule. Although these techniques were part of the overall community engagement effort, the five plans reached different populations with differing needs and tailored surveys for the respective areas revealed the priorities of each ADP community.
ADPs were recommended unanimously by the Committees, Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council. Each area explored ways to fund the projects and initiatives identified in the plans. Flour Bluff launched two initiatives related to the focus group’s input, which includes a branding effort and forming a group to address homelessness. During the unanimous approval of the Flour Bluff ADP in June 2021, the mayor said, “By moving forward the Flour Bluff Development Plan today, our City Council launched a new strategic action for Flour Bluff’s future. This plan is an integral part of our comprehensive plan that will allow for planned growth and infrastructure development.”
The effectiveness of the ADPs’ online engagement is based on the following results.
Survey Results: 2,168 Participants; 44,085 Data Points Gathered; 2,941 Free-response Comments.
Equitable, diverse and inclusive outreach programs rely on the inclusion of community segments that are often underrepresented in planning processes. The SAC proactively established partnerships focusing on those affiliated with underrepresented communities. Their partnership in this process allowed issues and solutions to be integrated into the plan.
A year was spent on each ADP working with the community. While some engagements were able to be conducted in person, others moved online due to the pandemic. The virtual engagement included three community meetings, three surveys and stakeholder advisory committee meetings throughout the process. Staff maintained a comprehensive project website, including a detailed summary of the plan’s purpose, an overview of the update process, meeting notes and presentations and provided a wide range of options to get involved in the plan’s development. Additionally, multiple articles in the local newspaper, Facebook and segments on local news stations helped inform the community and encourage participation. Following key engagement events, the City developed brief input reports to recap the event, summarize the input received and indicate how that input would be used.
The City recognized a decline in participation on social media due to a change in the way Facebook shares information with users. The City chose to pay for Facebook ads to boost participation, reaching 20,000 people and leading to 1,900 views of the final community meeting.
There were collaborative efforts between the City, Metropolitan Planning Organization, Nueces County and the NASCC. City staff led public outreach efforts, and the consultant team led the engagement of participants. Examples of each:
- Advisory Committee
- Youth Advisory Committee
- Community meetings
- Focus Groups
- Think Tank- a series of four days of charettes
- Social media
- Constant Contact
- Local news station- featured on multiple news outlets
- Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council updates
- Process-created ambassadors
Effectiveness and Results
The ADP engagement process was designed to educate the community and build a lasting relationship with the City staff, encouraging future partnership opportunities. Structured in-person and online meetings began with educating the community, followed by interactive group activities to explain how the input would guide the plan’s development educating the Committee regarding comprehensive planning and the positive effects of community growth. The inclusion of youth in engagement efforts planted seeds for civic engagement and the importance of planning for the future of their communities. Committee members served as ambassadors of the plan for groups they represented in the community. Virtual meetings were recorded and made available on the City’s social media accounts and project websites.
Educating community members about the purpose of planning and how their involvement could influence the community’s future was essential in helping encourage participation in future planning efforts. The transparent and interactive process increased accessibility, understanding, and community ownership of the plans. It also resulted in grassroots implementation efforts before the plans were adopted. For example, in Flour Bluff, the community installed a new welcome sign, applied for multiple grants, and began organizing volunteer cleanups based on the plan’s recommendations.
The ADPs were developed through a unique and inspiring comprehensive public engagement process integrating existing conditions and the community’s vision. The ADP created strategic recommendations to guide future development choices confronting community leaders in each area. The City staff wanted the plan’s recommendations to be measurable, fiscally aligned with city goals, and tied to public engagement. The plans achieved those goals by creating implementation metrics and engaging the community to inspire collaboration and empower implementation of plan recommendations. City Council adopted the plans, with community members formally endorsing the process as reflecting the community’s vision.