Even the smallest zoning issue always has the potential to be controversial but Denver’s Community Planning and Development department took this challenge to a new level – looking to rezone all 150 square miles of the city at once. It made sense: The patchwork zoning approach over the previous half century had created a crazy quilt of conflicting designations and that’s a bad way to plan for a city’s future. But rezoning all of Denver at once presented an unprecedented test for city planners.
Community Planning and Development brought in SE2 to serve as communications consultants for the initiative. SE2 concluded the key was to facilitate a citywide dialogue, relying heavily on social media to increase participation. With our partners at rabble+rouser, we created a website that lowered the barriers to participation, reaching beyond just the typical meeting goers to get input from and educate the entire spectrum of residents. On the site, Denver residents learned about the new zoning code’s approach, found it what it meant specifically for them and their property, submitted questions and comments and viewed blogs. City staff could sort and track comments using a map that identified where feedback was focused.
Within the first six months, the website had drawn 42,000 visitors, more than 12 times as many people who went to the dozens of meetings. The website was highlighted by the media, Communications Arts featured it as Today’s Webpick, and it became a model for other cities. Most importantly, the Denver City Council unanimously adopted the new zoning code in June of 2010.