By Greg Oliver
CLEMSON — When Development Strategies, a St. Louis-based consulting firm, first began meeting with members of Clemson’s moratorium steering committee to discuss student housing and traffic issues, obtaining
public input — particularly from Clemson University students and those in underrepresented neighborhoods — was among the first items of discussion.
But how the firm and steering committee will be able to reach out to such groups, particularly in the black community, is going to require more creativity due to the impact of COVID-19 and the social distancing necessary to combat the spread of the virus. During a nearly two-hour meeting via Zoom on Wednesday morning, the consultant and steering committee acknowledged the dilemma with traditionally hard-to-reach groups.
“Our answer has always been to reach people where they are, but figuring out how to do that with technology instead of face-to-face interaction is something we’re going to have to put our heads together on,” said Matt Wetli, principal in charge and one of the partners of Development Strategies. “I’m pretty confident we can do a pretty good job, but we’re going to have to think creatively on that.”
While Development Strategies’ inaugural visit to Clemson was originally scheduled to take place this week, only to be postponed due to COVID-19, Wetli said the firm can still actively work in areas including identifying and examining previous planning efforts, data collection, base mapping, marketing and physical assessments through technology such as Google Earth.
During the next couple of weeks, Wetli said he plans to work with interim city administrator Andy Blondeau and moratorium steering committee chairman Bob Brookover on revising the firm’s early May visit to Clemson, which had included a four-day charrette and public input sessions.
Wetli said he feels that Clemson University students who are completing the semester with online classes due to the virus can still be reached through surveys and online engagement tools, as well as partnering with the university communications department.
“We have representatives on the steering committee and those who work with Clemson University, but we want the full involvement of the university, because we can’t be successful without engagement from the university,” Wetli said. “We have to work with university administrators to make sure we’re asking the right questions to the right people at the right time.
“The university can be an important part of the solution. The university is inextricably linked to the city, and while some people may not wish that it was, it is.”
The consultant said effective engagement with the university will be critical and that the steering committee’s help is needed to “identify the best people, groups, times for discussion.”
But reaching neighborhoods in the black community where a number of older residents do not have technology poses a challenge since the original door-to-door concept isn’t possible, at least for now, due to social distancing.
“This plan is only going to be successful as we engage more broadly in the community,” Wetli said.
Brookover said COVID-19 is going to force the committee and consulting firm “to be creative and flexible on these things.”
“We’re not going to have developers coming into town and pushing new projects, so I think, in some ways, we’re in a good place because the pressure’s off and it gives us time to do more planning,” Brookover said.
Wetli said the steering committee will also be an integral part of the input process moving forward.
“You’re going to be that sounding board as we share analysis,” Wetli said. “You can be that translator for us, sharing ideas with the community.”