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Top Picks: Citizen Engagement Tools, Impacts of Shrinking Retail, Telecommuting Update

July 14, 2017  by  Byron Katsuyama
Category:  Strategies and Programs Public Participation Planning

Top Picks: Citizen Engagement Tools, Impacts of Shrinking Retail, Telecommuting Update

Each week I scan the web for interesting and useful news, blog posts, articles, and reports from a variety of local government-related sources, and post them to the In Focus section of MRSC’s homepage. Here are some of the most interesting “top picks” from my most recent scans.

Boosting Citizen Engagement Efforts

One area where there always seems to be room for improvement centers on local government citizen engagement efforts. It’s not easy to capture the attention of busy citizens. However, effective citizen engagement efforts are critical to understanding their needs and to being able to design services to meet those needs.

Here are a few new tools and resources you can use to boost your citizen engagement efforts:

Slideshows Are a Good Thing. Slideshows offer a number of advantages for citizen outreach efforts. First, they can be much more engaging than text-only documents. Second, they are more readily shared through different social media platforms. And, third, they are easier to view on mobile devices, which is where a growing number of citizens are viewing your content. Take a look at King County’s “Top 16 in 2016: King County’s Year in Review” slideshow to see how this can work for you.

Photo-Powered Urban Diaries Enhance Citizen Feedback. The most effective citizen engagement efforts offer citizens a way to “talk back” to their local government officials. With that in mind, a new tool called the “urban diary” takes advantage of the ubiquity of smartphones and cameras to give citizens the ability to contribute feedback to their local government officials through the use of photographic images depicting things that they like or dislike in their communities. This tool can be particularly effective for planning and community development issues where images can greatly enhance the dialogue.   

Improving Public Meetings with Technology. Here are several ideas for using technology to improve your public meetings, including instant polling, agenda planners, and virtualized meeting packets. I have been particularly impressed with the effectiveness of web-based instant polling tools like Slido that can be used to receive comments and conduct polls in real time and then to capture that feedback for the record. Citizens want to be heard. These tools offer an effective way to make that happen.

Impacts of Shrinking Retail

The decline of traditional brick and mortar retail has increasingly been in the headlines with more stories in recent months about long-time shopping mall anchors like J.C. Penney, Sears, and Macy’s announcing hundreds of store closures across the country.

One of the primary drivers of this shift has been the phenomenal growth of giant e-commerce sites like Amazon together with sea changes in the shopping habits of Americans. In fact, store closings in 2017 are actually on pace to surpass the closure rate that occurred during the 2008 recession. This is the data point that caught my attention.

The rise of e-commerce and the resulting decline of brick and mortar retail will, of course, have multiple impacts on local governments and communities. Here is a closer look at the scale and scope of this emerging issue along with some advice for how local communities can weather the storm:

The Suburbs May Be Hardest Hit. It turns out that the brunt of the impacts, both in terms of declining employment and tax revenues, may be borne more by suburban communities. These communities would be wise to learn from the mistakes that were made 50 years ago when many cities and towns tried and largely failed to counter the withering effects that suburban shopping malls had on their older downtown retail cores.

The News is Not Particularly Good for Counties Either. Here’s a look at the negative impacts that these trends are likely to have on many county budgets that are more dependent on sales tax revenues, along with some actions at the national level that may offer some relief.

Surviving the Retail Meltdown. Easing land use restrictions, rethinking incentives, and thinking “small” may offer a way for some communities to adapt to and survive the tectonic shifts that are occurring in the retail landscape.

Transforming Aging Mall Sites. Another strategy involves taking a new approach to the development or redevelopment of shopping malls. Future shopping malls may be more integrated into the surrounding community, have a greater mix of uses,  less concrete, and more natural landscaping. A recent Urban Land Institute panel reviewed five approaches to reviving older shopping malls that highlight opportunities for community regeneration.

Telecommuting Update

What’s the fastest growing commute mode since 2000? Answer: no commute at all. A recent analysis of U.S. Census data shows that a record 2.6% of American employees “telecommute” to work. The same analysis shows that telecommuting has grown faster than any other mode of commuting (up 159%) since 2000. 

Another report shows that telecommuting actually outpaces public transit use in more than half of the top U.S. metro areas. Another thought provoking data point. These are long-term trends, but their implications for land use and transportation policies may be significant.

If you have questions about this topic or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post or other topics you would like us to write about, please email me at

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron began work at the Center as a Research Assistant in July 1978. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. from the University of Washington's Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance. After completing his M.P.A., Byron joined MRSC's consulting staff as a Public Policy and Management Consultant concentrating on municipal administration and policy analysis. Byron is responsible for research in such areas as emerging local government issues, best practices, strategic planning, performance measurement, and local government management. In addition to his consulting duties, Byron also maintains the "Focus" section of MRSC's website and is editor of our "In Focus" and "Ask MRSC" e-newsletters. He also coordinates our HR, Planning, Finance, Government Performance, and Council/Commission Advisors. In his own community of Kirkland, Byron also served for eight years as a member of the city's planning commission. Byron is a member of the Washington City/County Management Association (WCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

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