GEORGE KENNEDY: Columbia community development plan under way

Thursday, February 16, 2012 | 4:20 p.m. CST; updated 6:27 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 16, 2012

You’ve probably been wondering what ever happened to Visioning. I capitalize because it was a pretty big deal half a decade ago. Many Missourian readers no doubt were among the hundreds of good citizens who met in December 2006 to launch a process that was supposed to yield a general plan and specific steps toward making our community what we want it to be.

You may even have suspected, as I did, that the vision emerging from all that well-intentioned talk wound up gathering dust, maybe on the shelf along with the Metro 2020 plan.

Wrong. The spirit, at least, of our collective vision endures. I learned that good news Wednesday evening, when I braved the rain and risked missing the start of the MU basketball game to take part in Phase 3 of Columbia Imagined.

Tim Teddy, who heads the newly renamed Community Development Department, set me straight. Columbia Imagined, he explained, won’t be imaginary. Far from it. By the time Phase 6 is reached some time next summer, the lofty aspirations of visioning will have been translated into something the city has never really had — a comprehensive plan.

And just what is a comprehensive plan, you ask? The definition I found on the city’s website describes it as "A general plan with goals, objectives and policies, maps and graphics that provide a common reference for citizens and decision makers on the desired future growth and development of the city."

You might say a comprehensive plan translates vision into reality.

Columbia Imagined has seven elements: Sustainable, livable communities; accessibility, mobility and connectivity; economic development; environmental management; infrastructure; intergovernmental cooperation; land use and growth management.

I’m not sure we added much to the construction of a plan Wednesday. There were only a dozen of us in the Shepard Elementary School gym, and city staffers outnumbered ordinary citizens two to one.

Still, Professor Steve Jeanetta, a community development expert in the university’s Rural Sociology department, led us through a conversation that covered favorite things to do, favorite places to go and things worth preserving in Columbia.

As you'd expect, we like our town pretty much as it is. We value its amenities, from its excellent restaurants to its athletic and cultural events. We don't want to lose our healthy downtown, our parks and trails, our historic neighborhoods. We worry about affordable housing, public transit, poverty and the university’s future.

Prof. Jeanetta took copious notes. He’ll combine our modest contribution with the results from the other five meetings. On March 20, a summary of those issues and ideas will be presented at City Hall. The plan that emerges will be scrutinized by the Planning and Zoning Commission, on its way to the City Council.

If you find all this a bit boring, I wouldn't disagree. Comprehensive planning is a lot more important than it is exciting. There's still time for you to get involved. The next What Do We Care About session is at 6 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall. Or you can go to the website,, and work your way to the Planning and Development page to express your opinions in a survey.

Sooner or later, Columbia will have a comprehensive plan. Whether it’s really ours is up to you.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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