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Hundreds join forum to envision city’s future

Participants generated ideas that will form citizen topic groups.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:44 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Update: Due to the forecast of bad weather, the BIG (Big Idea Gathering) meeting has been postponed to Thursday, Dec. 7. Location, times, and transportation details remain the same - 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; Performing Arts Center, Rock Bridge High School, 4303 S. Providence Rd.

On Tuesday night, 301 people were asked to close their eyes and imagine Columbia over the next two decades.

At the Imagine Columbia’s Future BIG (Big Idea Gathering) Meeting at Stephens College, participants were put in groups of 12 to generate ideas about the city’s future. Once entered into a computerized database, the ideas will help organize citizen topic goups that will begin meeting in January.

Columbia’s Visioning Committee was pleased with the turnout. Toni Messina, the city’s communications director, said before the meeting that she hoped for a strong turnout representing Columbia’s diversity.

Despite providing free public transportation, not a single participant rode the buses to the meeting. The city had secured two school buses to make four stops around Columbia. Messina said the city offered the service to ensure that everyone who wanted to attend could.

During the publicity campaign leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, Vision Committee co-chairman Jeffrey Williams stressed that participant numbers didn’t matter, but rather the make-up of those numbers.

“A lot of pundits said that this wouldn’t work, that no one would show up,” Williams said. “We proved them wrong tonight with a great representation of Columbia.”

However, with Columbia having an estimated 2006 population of 91,877, some participants expressed the sentiment that minority groups were underrepresented. A group of blacks said that while the small groups were effective, there wasn’t a strong enough showing from their community. According to 2005 U.S. Census Bureau data, almost 9 percent of Columbia is black. They said that there was little publicity and that if the city had visited black churches, more blacks could have been reached.

The next BIG Meeting will be from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Performing Arts Center at Rock Bridge High School, 4303 S. Providence Road.


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