Planning Positives

By Andrew Lorentzen, Planner at Rose Law Group

Self-isolation and social distancing in the age of Covid-19 have made interesting times for local governments and city halls across America. While many city hall complexes have shut their doors to walk- in services and in-person meetings, the men and women who dutifully provide our city functions have adapted and continue to operate.

Email & digital conferencing have replaced in-person submissions for the vast majority of planning, zoning and permitting counters in city halls during these unprecedented closures. These digital services have allowed diligent city employees to continue to provide service to avoid a complete interruption and a potential massive backlog of submissions that would otherwise have occurred with a shutdown. In our ever- exceeding digital age, many cities and municipalities have already embraced electronic submissions, giving them a leg up to continue to operate during the current pandemic.

The municipalities that are only now being “forced” to accept electronic submissions in the name of public safety will find a willing public that will be more than happy to forego a trip to a local city hall or government office just to submit forms and paperwork. While the events that brought us here are unfortunate, one hopes to see cities who previously only accepted paper submission to continue the digital acceptance when we all return to our “new normal.”

Public meetings such as city council and other governing bodies have also shown the ability to adapt, providing teleconferencing and phone-in speaking situations as not to disrupt the legally required meetings per city and state ordinances. Locally, the cities of Phoenix and Tempe city councils have continued their meeting schedules with no public audience. The public was still able to address and opine on the issues through phone, digital conferencing and pre-written statements.

Again, these unprecedented days have shown us options for cities to provide more direct and meaningful public involvement than the traditional meeting attendance. It is unclear how these formats might effect a contentious issue or heated debate. There is no foreseeable reason why such issues cannot be integrated into regularly scheduled public meetings to provide a constant digital public outreach and involvement.

Current events have shown us that cities and municipalities are willing and able to adapt if compelled. Now it is time to take this negative situation and what we have already learned from it to push digital progression into the world of city and local government.