Common ideas emerge in Future Fort Smith forums

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 75 views 

The last of the Future Fort Smith Community Forums was held tonight (July 30) at the Fort Smith Senior Citizens Activity Center, with about 30 people expressing a desire to see completed projects ranging from a developed riverfront to the completion of I-49.

Planner and urban designer Brian Traylor of Wallace, Roberts and Todd, the consulting firm working with the city on updating the comprehensive plan that was first created in 2002, said he was impressed with the attendance at the three community forums held over the last three days.

"People usually don't come to these because it's a public meeting, public speaker type of forum. So we're happy."

The format used at the last two days of meetings broke about 90 citizens up into various groups to list strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with members of the steering committee serving as proctors and facilitators for the groups.

One of the committee members, Zena Featherston Marshall, said the experience of being on the committee and helping with the forums has been a great experience. She said the months leading up to the meetings has allowed the committee to grow together as they familiarize themselves with their roles.

"As far as the steering committee is concerned, I feel we've made progress as a group," she said. "We've moved from a position where we didn't know what our responsibilities were to a position to listen to other people and bring their ideas to the table."

Marshall, who participated in two of the forums, said she was seeing common ideas emerge from the meetings, namely riverfront development and downtown revitalization.

It was something Silvia Vargas, a senior associate and planner with WRT, said she was seeing, as well, pointing to Marshall's takeaways and the completion of I-49.

"You're going to start to see a lot of common threads," Vargas said.

But not every aspect of the meetings have been positive, she said, pointing to the threats that emerge as a part of these forums.

"Regarding threats, frequently threats of inertia, or apathy, leading us to fail," she said. "It's more about the process. I think we have a great steering committee. They ask a lot of questions. There's enthusiasm."

She said the key to avoid the apathy among the committee and in the community when it comes to the comprehensive plan will be making the steering committee members not only good spokesmen for the committee itself, but making them good spokesmen to the city leaders on behalf of their neighbors and friends.

"If you have city-wide buy-in, you can say yet, this is our plan. They will hold any Board of Directors responsible with following through."

Vargas said the most successful steering committees are the ones with "champions" who fight to see that the final result is not only communicated, but executed.

Steering committee member Rocky Walker is one of those who have bought into the mission of the committee and is trying to be a champion.

He said the forums, and the work of the committee since it was formed earlier this year, has been very positive. The takeaway that he has seen from the forums, and from working on the committee, is similar to what Vargas and Marshall have alluded to.

"The crux of the matter is we just have to figure out how to utilize our assets. We rarely get a base hit," he said. "We have awesome opportunities. We just have to do it."

Walker said he will be one of those citizens holding the Fort Smith Board of Directors' feet to the fire once the plan is completed and implemented next year.

"There's always a risk when you deal with a bureaucracy. There's always a risk. But there's always a risk of doing nothing, too. And the future of Fort Smith is too important to do nothing."