Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tales of a City Planner - Sitting in parking lots in the Dark

aka the meetings no one wants to go

Meetings. We all have them. Most of the time, people are really not enthused to go to them. It could be a nice day outside and you don’t want to go. It can be a rainy day outside and you don’t want to go. It could be a cold or hot day outside and you don’t want to go. But whatever the reasons that you don’t want to go to a meeting are pretty much felt by everyone else involved in that same meeting. A collective cloud of “screw it, I’m not going” starts to form over the meeting place alerting others nearby to drive far, far away from this meeting place.

See as your local community planner, I notice these things when I pull up to an empty deserted meeting place and I see no cars in the parking lot. For I sit there in my car in the parking lot in the dark staring at this growing cloud of dissent and wonder if I should drive fast away like all the others. So I sit there.

And I wait.

And hope that no other cars pull up to justify my not coming in and pulling away. See the polite thing to do would be to go inside and wait to see if others slowly trickle in. But I’ve learned from experience not to do that because there is always some lonely bastard sitting in a room by themselves waiting for anyone to come in. Now future planners, you want to avoid this situation. Nothing is more awkward than two people who really don’t to be there sitting in a big, bright room.

So I continue to wait. In a parking lot. In the dark.

But atlas my wait comes to an end when three or four cars pull up at the last minute (always happens). So I begrudgingly go inside for the start of the meeting. Now as I have stated there were only three of four cars that pulled up. So that means there can only be 4-6 other people at the meeting plus the already waiting lonely bastard inside which means I’ve done drove and went out my way for a five person meeting. Could have really knocked this out by e-mail. Whatever. Let’s knock this meeting out and go on home, right? WRONG.

If you invited ten people to a meeting and only five showed up – you kind of have a halfway determined group. If you invited twenty people to a meeting and only five showed up – you have a small core of dedicated people. But if invited over one hundred people to a meeting and only five showed up, those five people didn’t have anything else to do and they are looking forward to talk all night. Always happens. You bring one hundred people to a meeting, that’s potentially fifty people in the room that have something to do and are snapping their fingers to move this meeting along. But five people? Be prepared to slowly hear about all of the community’s problems.

The perfect length of meeting for me is thirty to forty-five minutes with fifteen minutes of question time. If there are no questions the meeting ends early. Meetings should be just that, all meat. All the other fatty questions can be addressed personally after the meeting or by e-mail. The perfect meeting size is twenty to thirty people. And I have come up with an equation that for every ten people over thirty people there will be five minutes added onto the meeting. You have one hundred people at meeting, you are going to be there for an hour and half.

Here is an image of Philadelphia rap artist Gillie Da Kid who perfectly expresses a planner’s face at a long pointless meeting

Unfortunately there is an inverse of this equation that leads planners to sit in their cars in a parking lot, in the dark. For every five people that don’t show up for a meeting under twenty people, add 10 minutes to the meeting. Sick, right? So that means if you have a five person meeting you will be there for an hour. Yes a whole hour. Talking about what you may ask? I don’t know. I zone out. Most of the time, they are complaining about neighbors and government. I always get a kick out of when they complain about government in front of me since their tax dollars are being wasted by me having to attend this five person meeting of chit chat. And they say government doesn’t care.

Now during the day, I have had some great productive five person meetings. In fact I prefer them during the day. You get all the principles involved and you knock out your agenda and get things done. But on a Wednesday night. At 7 pm. A five person meeting sucks. And everyone knows this. In fact everyone is trying so hard not to be the sixth person that no one comes. Except that one lonely bastard. And four other people. And me.

Waiting. In a parking lot. In the dark. Hoping no one else shows up.

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