In an era when national public policy seems settled into two hostile camps, policy discussion too often is reduced to nasty sound bites, shouting heads and simplistic solutions.
The public meetings held last week in Lexington about the comprehensive plan that will guide land use for the next five years were a welcome relief from the national strife.
The issues are potentially hot-button for sure: property values and rights, quality of life, access to necessities, safe neighborhoods and streets, economic development, clean water and working sewers.
And they are complex. Some are technical, like water quality; others involve a diversity of interests and players — from homeowners to the state transportation cabinet, developers to neighborhood associations, the University of Kentucky and city government.
But the meetings drew unexpectedly large crowds who expressed themselves courteously, asked serious questions but never gave way to rancor, and offered thoughtful suggestions about how to improve Lexington and the comprehensive plan.
They wanted to know how the plan would make Lexington safer and more accessible for bicyclists and pedestrians. They asked what protections there are for neighborhoods not deemed historic.
They wondered what the roles are of the University of Kentucky and other large institutions in formulating and executing the plan. They wondered how any development could be contemplated where sewers are already overflowing.
One woman offered the commonsense suggestion that multi-family developments include secure, covered exterior parking for bicycles, if we really want people to use them (who wants to haul a bike up stairs or in an elevator?)
Another suggested that improving public transportation might be a better way to make essential retail like groceries and pharmacies accessible rather than expanding commercial development near neighborhoods.
They wanted to know what happens next and how to stay involved.
Their comments were all recorded and will be given to the Planning Commission as its members continue working on the plan update
Anyone who wants can, and should, join the conversation. It's important — and it's civil.