San José State University - URBP 200
Professor Asha Weinstein - Fall 2004
Personal Reflections Assignment Part A:
Planning Commission Analysis
(Due in class on 11/8/04)
This assignment gives you an opportunity to experience a planning commission meeting firsthand and
then write an essay reflecting on how effective the meeting was.
How to select and attend a planning commission meeting
- Find a suitable meeting. Most planning commission meetings are held on weekday evenings. Cities usually post planning commission meeting schedules on their web pages. Links to Bay Area cities are available at:
- Make sure the meeting will be substantive. Review the agenda to make sure that something reasonably interesting is happening, and that the meeting will last at least an hour and a half. You may find that the meeting lasts longer than this (they have been known to go into the wee hours of the morning), but you don't have to stay for the whole meeting unless you wish to.
- Confirm on the day of the meeting. Meetings can be cancelled at short notice, so call the city on the day of the meeting to make sure that the meeting has not been cancelled or that the agenda has not been reduced to insignificance. Don't assume that you can safely pick a meeting a few days before the assignment is due! A cancelled meeting will not be an acceptable excuse for handing in a late paper.
- Consider going with other students. Feel free to attend a meeting together with other students in the class. If you do go in a group, I encourage you to discuss with each other what you saw. However, I expect you to write your papers independently.
Writing the paper
Write an essay analyzing what happened at the meeting. You paper must cover the following items, but you don't need to do so in the order I've listed them.
1) What happened at the meeting?
Imagine that you are a newspaper reporter describing the scene and all the events.
Briefly cover the following details:
- Where and when was the meeting held?
- How long was the meeting?
- Who was present as official representatives of the local government,
as well as in the audience? Did anybody important seem to be missing?
- Who spoke?
- What issues were discussed? If there were many, you can choose the most interesting two or three to discuss. (Note: Do not spend the bulk of your paper describing what happened.
Remember that the point of the assignment is to analyze the meeting as a public
meeting, not to analyze the planning issues that were discussed.)
- What decisions were made? For example: Was a project approved or rejected? Did the commissioners request further study of an issue? Was another commission or official body asked to review the issue? Were decisions postponed to a later meeting?
2) Your analysis of the meeting
The point of the analysis is to discuss the meeting you attended in terms of its value as a form of public participation and decision making, applying concepts discussed in class to what you observe. This analysis should make up the bulk of the paper.
Make sure your paper does the following:
- Use (and cite) ideas from at least two different readings assigned for the course.
- Explain your overall judgments about the meeting. For example, was it useful? Do you think it will contribute to a better outcome for the projects discussed than would occur if the meeting weren't held? Was the meeting “fair” in your opinion? Did it serve the public interest?
- If you think the meeting was not as productive as it could have been, make recommendations for improving it. Try to be realistic in your recommendations.
Here are some questions to give you ideas about what you want to discuss:
- What was the attitude of the government representatives? Were they respectful to the public and to each other? Were they paying attention?
- What was the attitude of the public? Were people present just to complain? Or primarily to get information? Did they seem to feel the meeting was worthwhile or productive?
- Overall, was the meeting characterized by conflict? Or by a sense of people trying to work together to resolve differences amicably? Or was everyone in agreement at the start?
- Did any one person or group dominate the meeting? If so, how did that happen? Did the structure (rules) of the meeting allow that to happen, or did an individual or group simply seize the floor by interrupting others or talking for a long time?
- Did everybody who wanted to speak have the opportunity? Did speakers have enough time?
- Was the content or tenor of the meeting affected by the nature of the room, the seating arrangements, or the location where the meeting was held?
4-5 pages, typed (Times New Roman 12-point type, 1 inch margins, line spacing set at “2”). The assignment should be about 1,350 to 1,700 words in length. Please note that 5 pages is the maximum for this paper; I will stop reading (and grading) after that
All citations to readings should be prepared according to the directions on the course
You will be graded on (1) the quality of your analysis; (2) the clarity, organization, and grammatical correctness of your writing; and (3) whether or not your memo covers all topics specified.
This assignment is worth 20% of your course grade.