Cities Improving Community Engagement By Paying for It

Rochester, MN, joins the ranks of cities realizing that community input is worth paying for.

May 11, 2021, 10:00 AM PDT

By rkaufman

Bus Stop

Leigh Trail / Shutterstock

When building something new that will affect lots of people for decades to come, it pays to ask people about what they want. It also pays to pay those people to tell you.

Rochester, a city of 100,000 located 77 miles southeast of Minneapolis and home to the Mayo Clinic, is facing growing pains. Downtown parking is in short supply, streets are congested, and it’s not always easy to get around without a car.

To alleviate parking and traffic congestion, the city’s transit agency is planning a bus rapid transit route, which will start near the Mayo Clinic and head west toward a planned park-and-ride near a suburban tract of single-family homes, stopping at a satellite Mayo Clinic campus and a small retail corridor along the way.

But to make sure that the project benefits those who will use it, the transit agency has convened a paid advisory committee made up of 10 Rochester residents to gather and provide feedback from all over the city. They are paid $25 per hour and offered childcare reimbursement, provided they commit to 30 hours of work between September 2020 and June of this year. They’re just one of many agencies across the nation who realize just how important it is to hear not just from those who typically appear at council meetings and hearings (who research shows tend to be older, whiter and wealthier than the overall neighborhood), but from people from different backgrounds who otherwise couldn’t afford to show up.

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