& Co. [VIDEO] featuring Rebekah Kik, Dir. Community Planning and Development in Kalamazoo, MI

The featured guest on & Co. — our limited series focusing on COVID-19 and the impact on our cities — was Rebekah Kik from the City of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Rebekah has been leading the charge in Kalamazoo during the crisis and has adjusted City strategies related to engagement, planning and development processes. We spoke with Rebekah about everything from business permitting to surveying community needs. There was even a technical glitch in the middle that enabled some fun audience participation. Below are four takeaways from our discussion.


The COVID-19 pandemic has completely reshaped both what we can do and what we should do when it comes to building our cities, neighborhoods and districts. This realization has forced us and enabled us to hit pause on short-term and long-term projects, community engagement efforts and regulatory processes. After over three months of a pandemic City leaders like Rebekah are realizing that hitting pause is ok and that investing smartly in place, removing red tape strategically and re-thinking short and medium-term investment is necessary.


Even before spatial distancing and quarantining were part of our regular vocabulary we were embracing the digital survey with a bit too much ease. While online surveys do allow planners, designers and developers to reach a large set of the population in a quick period of time, what is lost in this is the hyperlocal knowledge of those living adjacent to the site(s) who can provide the most guidance and in some cases don’t have easy access to the internet. Embracing old fashioned community organizing methodology like door knocking, paper surveys and one-on-one community conversation can often yield more positive results.


Throughout this crisis it has become apparent in many cases that business owners and residents are the experts on the ground and know how to respond to the day-to-day problems emerging from the virus. Their most essential need is the ability to communicate quickly and efficiently with City employees and for regulations to get out of their way as they build creative interventions for their spaces. While this is happening, it is critical that City leadership surveys, documents and observes what does and does not work during this time period as part of a larger effort to adjust future policies once the pandemic is behind us.


Small business interventions such as parklets and COVID streets are becoming more and more common across cities of all shapes and sizes. While some are simply enabling one off interventions by businesses that want to participate, other regions are developing district-wide policies that enable a broader strategy for corridors and streets. The latter approach is often dependent on a community operator such as a BID or CDC; however, Rebekah points out that facilitating a meeting among multiple business owners and providing tools and resources to the group can help create a business task force that can solve problems together. This can yield powerful results in the short-term while also potentially leading to the formation of a new business association in the long-term.
In partnership with Soapbox Cincinnati and NKY thrives, Yard & Company, launched video podcast series, & Co., focused on solutions, ideas and interventions related to the COVID-19’s impact on cities. Catch up on the 8-part & Co. video series to see their other COVID-19 response work here. Please share.
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