The Real House-Lobbyists of White Flint

The Real House-Lobbyists of White Flint

So, how scary was it to open your Washington Post this morning to see Evan Goldman hard at work? Actually, I love the guy, and I’m glad he got an excellent piece in the paper today. The article, by Miranda Spivack, looks at the developers’ efforts to promote the White Flint Sector Plan, and discusses how they are using some “high-tech” tools. You can read the article at:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/28/AR2009112802319.html?hpid=newswell

There’s also an interesting video interview of Evan discussing how they use “social media” (Facebook, Twitter) to update people and to get people to invite them for face-to-face meetings, what Evan calls the “most effective” form of communication. That’s just a hint about the real hard work of the White Flint Sector Plan discussions: between public and private organizations, both pro- and against the Plan, there have been hundreds of face-to-face meetings with thousands of County residents to discuss the White Flint Plan. Evan and I counted them up the other day, and we estimated more than 200 meetings in just the last twelve months or so.

But what’s really interesting about the Post article and its focus on Evan is what it doesn’t say — in fact, some things people may not know about Evan:

  • he’s not a professional lobbyist, or even a community organizer. He actually has a job other than White Flint; he’s an architect and planner, and a very accomplished one. The article makes it sound like community organizing is something he does every day, and he does. Now. But this is his first time trying something like this. He’s always asking: “Do you think this will work? Should we do this?” The fact that he’s so good at it is because he really is a natural socializer, and he is sincere in what he’s promoting. And that leads to the second hidden fact:
  • he’s a believer. He really believes in New Urbanism. He takes Metro to work. He doesn’t use a briefcase; he uses a backpack. If you look back at his postings on the FLOG, he used to chart the number of times each week that he drove a car, and it was low. When we plan meetings, we have to keep in mind that Evan’s not driving, and that’s a useful device to keep walkability in mind. Keeps us mindful of what we’re really trying to do here. As Spivack’s article says, Evan is planning not just for others, but for people who are just like him. And he actually tries very hard to find out what they’re like, which leads to another hidden fact about Evan:
  • he spends a lot of time giving back to his community, including with a program to bring principles of urban planning to high school and college kids. He got me involved, and I worked with people from Fairfax, D.C. and elsewhere on programs for high school kids to show them what it’s like to look at a community from an urban planner’s viewpoint. The program, Urban Plan, uses giant Lego blocks to represent various types of buildings, and the kids have to prepare not only a redesign for a community, but balance budgets, community interests, and transportation issues. They have to present their plan, and defend it, to a group of equally-involved participants. It makes the participants think through all their choices. And that’s the same sort of things that the Post article highlighted as some of Evan’s “modern” communications tools. Spivack says that this is what developers need to do, but for Evan, it’s just how he is anyway. And finally,
  • he gets challenged by opponents of the Plan. A LOT. People say nasty stuff about him on-line and sometimes to his face. Just because he’s one of the “evil developers.” He rarely gets mad about it. He tries to explain. Evan will say during a discussion: “I know I’m a developer, but leaving that aside, this is good for the community because. . .” And he’ll go very far to accommodate and work with people who differ with him. In fact, I often tell him that he’s too optimistic and positive. But, I have to tell you, some of the things that people say about him do hurt. Probably because he expects people to see and understand what he’s saying, not see in him a reflection of some nameless evil.

Anyway, I could go on, but the fact is that Evan Goldman is not only likeable and a good salesman for White Flint, he knows what he’s talking about. I met him the first day I began working on the White Flint Advisory Group for the Planning Board; he was in my “neighborhood” discussion group (along with hard-core opponent Paula Bienenfeld, also quoted in the Post story). I came into the process wanting to get from one end of the Pike to the other as fast as possible. I wanted to sink the Pike into a tunnel so it wouldn’t be bothered with all that mess in White Flint. It was Evan, and the late Bea Chester and the late Marion Clark, more than any other people, who showed me that what I thought was a parking lot-covered, overhead-wire-festooned, sea of asphalt actually had potential; it could be a walkable, green community. We didn’t always agree (still don’t, and we’ve had some very public “discussions”). But by the end of the night, when I reported back to the whole Advisory Group on our “neighborhood” discussion, I was already saying, “we need to slow down the Pike.” Natalie Goldberg, another opponent of the current Plan draft, exclaimed “slow it down? We need to move that traffic!” And I looked at Evan, back at Natalie, and said: “I think we know how to move that traffic. And do a lot more too.”

So I guess, I too was sold on White Flint by Evan Goldman.

[Update: LOL! Check out the on-line comments to the Post article as well. The claim is that White Flint Mall has been taken over by “thugs and illegals.” Hmm, haven’t actually seen that, and I go there a lot (My office is across the street).]

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall

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One comment

evangoldman

Barnaby, thank you for this post. It is really very nice and I appreciate the support that you and FOWF have shown. This process is about a huge number of very active and interested people with a stake in the future of White Flint coming together to make a really good plan happen. I was just one of the many many messengers about White Flint including you with your regular postings and live blogging! It has been great to be a part of and I look forward to continuing our outreach efforts over the next few years!

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