Re: Learning from Hard Decisions
From: Jim Snyder-Grant (
Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2002 19:01:02 -0600 (MDT)
In our 6 years of development process & 6 years living here (Acton MA),
we've certainly had some tough decisions.  Here's one story. I may send
another shortly.

*The sidewalk through the woods*

The site plan called for walking paths of handicap grade to get access to
all houses. That was tricky, as we are on a slope that is steeper than
handicap grade -- lots of 'wiggly' sidewalks.  The one part of this that
became controversial was through one of the few stands of trees in the
middle of our site - some folks felt that the path as drawn would have
caused way too many trees to come down. A third tension point  emerged
later: one family felt that some of the options meant that they would have
insufficient screening -- that this was the only side of their house where
they might be able to look out and not see houses.

So there were competing values of preserving trees and natural beauty,
preserving handicap access, and preserving privacy. All of these values were
recognized in our charter as shared values and goals.

I think there were not additional hidden issues that drived the discussion -
this was plenty.

At a long meeting, we did not reach consensus. There was no clear way
forward for a while. Then,  we authorized three folks representing those
three points of view to walk the par of the site in question, to see if new
ideas emerged. Feelings were high enough that we did not trust this group to
just resolve the issue, but instead we asked them to report back to an extra
meeting scheduled a few days away.

That worked, after a while. The meeting in the woods started warily, but the
three of them eventually proposed a trail that had two sections at an OK
grade, plus one middle section that was too steep. It was further proposed
that if any member needed it, the group would install a railing at the steep
section. The trail was designed with a level 'resting' section at the top of
the steep part.  The trail would be a sidewalk (paved) so that scooters &
chairs could travel OK (there had been talk of keeping that part of the
sidewalk unpaved). The route avoided most of the larger trees. It kept a
good buffer of trees next to the concerned household.

The group was  happy enough about it, when we got together again, that the
proposal passed.

What we learned was two fold:

1) Talking about design issues in the abstract is a lot harder & more prone
to absolutism than getting out into the space and question& seeing what teh
various alternatives might be.

2) Delegating stuff to smaller concerned groups can be an Excellent Thing,
even when the larger group doesn't see a way out.

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