In their jeans and khakis, City Council members and senior city staff gathered over pastries and coffee Saturday morning to discuss how Columbia might grow in the coming decades.
The laid-back mini-retreat was the first time in 18 years that the council has held a work session on a weekend, with the exception of the annual spring council retreat. The three items on the agenda — community visioning, a federal nonmotorized transportation grant and an update of the sewer master plan — are issues that will guide Columbia’s growth in the near future.
“We need to look at what the community wants to be when it grows up,” City Manager Bill Watkins said.
In discussing the city’s continued expansion, Watkins compared the point Columbia is at now to a scene from “Alice in Wonderland.” Columbia has come to a fork in the road, Watkins said, and must take the Cheshire Cat’s advice to Alice before it can grow.
“We have to decide where we want to end up before we decide if we want to go left or right,” he said.
Watkins suggested using community visioning, a systematic process to create a vision for a community’s future and evaluate the means the community can use to improve.
To keep things informal, he gave each council member a big red Staples “Easy Button”, which when pressed, exclaims “that was easy!” Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku used his when Watkins asked whether now was the time for Columbia to create its own community vision.
“I think the timing is right,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said. “We’re getting bigger, growing faster, and it’s having a bigger impact no matter what way you look at it.”
To determine how they should start, council members examined how three other communities — Springfield, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C. — created a vision of growth that worked for their city.
Council members agreed with Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless that given the nature of the Columbia community, a bottom-up approach to creating a vision is necessary. He said members of the public need to identify what they want in their community and then rely on city officials to implement it.
“We need to not just talk to the usual suspects,” Janku said. It is important that everyone knows they can be involved, he added.
To proceed with community visioning, some of the council’s next steps will be to assess current conditions, consult the Boone County Commission and hold a “vision fest” for the public to get involved.
The council is considering hiring an experienced consultant to help with both the assessment of current conditions and the coordination of goals.
“If we are going to do this, we need to know we are committing resources, both internal and external,” Watkins said.
The council extended its goal of an interconnected vision in a more physical sense when it discussed nonmotorized transportation.
Columbia is one of four communities the federal government designated to participate in a pilot program to construct a network of sidewalks, bicycle lanes and pedestrian trails to connect community centers. The idea is to reduce traffic congestion.
In other business, Public Works Director John Glascock introduced an updated sewer master plan that is expected to cover the next 25 years.
The sewer update plan is a “major deal” and will take much time to understand and accomplish, Watkins said. It is estimated to cost about $174 million.