The City of Urbana is developing a new comprehensive plan, for the first time in 20 years, and they want community members in Urbana and beyond to be the foundation for this multi-layered process. At the helm of this undertaking is Andrea Ruedi, Senior Advisor for Integrated Strategy Development for the City of Urbana. The process has been branded Imagine Urbana, as Ruedi and her team want to craft a vision for the City of Urbana that goes beyond the usual scope of what a city’s comprehensive plan might entail. Says Ruedi:


“It’s a tool that will guide the city on all the policy decisions that would affect everything from infrastructure to land use to developments. Typical plans focus on those types of things...kind of the inner workings and infrastructure that the city has to have, and is required...What we're trying to do with our plan is make it even broader...it's not just the about the infrastructure type issues, but it's the feel. How do I feel about Urbana and its uniqueness? We want to capture that and get people's input on how we can reinforce that. We want to include these different aspects that affect not only our residents, but those that come and shop and visit and study in Urbana.”

The community input portion of the planning process begins today, with the launch of the Imagine Urbana website. Through the site, those who live, work, and visit Urbana for any reason can offer their thoughts on what they’d like the community to look like a year, five years, ten years down the road and beyond. Ruedi emphasizes the fact that this information and input gathering is not just for Urbana residents. She hopes people understand that “no, I don't have to actually live in Urbana to be involved.” 

As you make your way to the Imagine Urbana website, a good place to land is the “About” page. There you will find a video, narrated by Community Engagement Coordinator Lemond Peppers, walking through the basics of the planning process, and how the public will be invited to contribute their ideas. Beyond that, there are several ways to interact, including a short survey, where you can offer some quick general thoughts about the City of Urbana. If you’d like your thoughts to be a little more visible, the website has an Idea Wall, where you can share your vision for the city. Have a memorable Urbana experience, or a specific place-related comment or concern? The Urbana Places portion of the website allows you to drop a pin on the map of Urbana, and provide a comment or concern, or share a memory. You can even upload a photo, whether it’s a snapshot of a Pygmalion performance, or a pothole in front of your house that needs repair. “We want to see the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly,” says Ruedi. “We want all of these comments out there so everybody can see them.” 

Because not everyone has easy access to the internet, the planning team is working on other ways to communicate with community members. They plan to launch a texting tool, and they hope to be able to safely go door to door at some point to communicate directly with folks.

They are also targeting specific groups and organizations to collaborate and try to reach as many different populations as possible. Because this comprehensive plan is going to be reaching well into the future, input from young people is extremely important. “We want them to stay here after they graduate,” says Ruedi. “But to do that, they need jobs...and they need to have a community...something that's vibrant and attractive.” They’ve recruited a senior from Urbana High School to help with youth outreach. “She's developing a communications plan now, and she really wants to be hands on herself in actually providing information and getting information from her peers. We're extremely delighted to have her. She is very interested in sustainability. She's interested in inclusiveness. So she is an ideal student to be working on this project.”

The city has also enlisted the help of an urban planning class at the U of I. Their entire spring semester will be devoted to community outreach for the comprehensive plan. “They're going to select a target market, and divide into teams and put together a plan on how to reach that target market and then actually start that process...this is a great opportunity for them, and of course, it's going to be invaluable to us.”

Once the planning team has gathered input from the broader community, then they will begin to dive deeper into topics and ideas and issues they see forming, and begin inviting community members who are interested in becoming involved into those conversations. Says Ruedi, “We want them at the table. We want that good discussion to go on and then keep refining.” Those deeper discussions will then lead to actionable plans, strategic initiatives, and budget decisions that prioritize the issues the community as a whole most want to see come to fruition. 

To be a part of the process, head to the Imagine Urbana website and register for an account.

Top photo by Anna Longworth.