WHEN 30 PEOPLE graduate in a ceremony this afternoon at City Hall, they'll be getting a certificate in city planning, but also giving the rest of us a new idea of what an informed citizenry could look like.
These 30 citizens have been to a special night school: Three intensive evening classes in city planning, where they learned through panel discussions and lectures about planning principles, land use and zoning, and the development process.
The city Planning Commission, which launched the Cititzen Planning Institute with a grant from the William Penn Foundation, designed the institute to be part of a larger public outreach effort related to the city's overhaul of the zoning code and creation of a new comprehensive plan; that effort is called Philadelphia2035.
The commission got about 100 applications for 30 slots; those winning a slot had to be associated with a neighborhood or civic organization. The commission wants to continue offering such classes, as well as create more-intensive classes that may satisfy people who have gotten the first taste of basic planning and want more.
We see opportunity for even more. Call us wonks, but we can easily imagine this learning model being used to teach citizens about other aspects of city government. For example, why not a series on how the legislative process works (or doesn't)?
We could also imagine a course on the infrastructure systems in (and under) the city, including water and sewer; a curriculum on policing and the law, the budget and, of course, education.
In fact, why not have a School of the City, where people can take a single course or sign up for a curriculum of classes that can inform them about the complicated issues facing the city, as well as help them navigate the bureaucracy better. (We'd also nominate a few of our elected officials to attend.)
The Planning Commission rightly sees the "viral" potential for arming citizens with knowledge: Informed citizens pass what they know on to other citizens. In the end, the more people who know how the city should be working, the greater the chance if will actually work that way.