A new group is aiming to bridge the rural-urban divide in La Plata County and foster more conversation around divisive issues, such as the county’s land-use code.
La Plata Civil Dialogue was founded in the fall by volunteers to give residents the opportunity to listen and learn from one another, even if they don’t agree, said organizer Ellen Stein.
Organizers expected four residents to come to the group’s first meeting in October, but after posting it on Facebook, nearly 20 showed up, said organizer Emily Thorn. Meetings have also drawn a good representation of people from across the political spectrum.
“The more people civilly talking about the hard things the better,” she said.
Group attendees selected the land-use code as the most important topic to talk about from a list of about 10 possible options, including infrastructure, affordable housing, homelessness, energy production and other issues. It’s a topic Thorn sees as a proxy for the rural-urban divide.
Organizer Charlie Minkler, a member of the county’s Planning Commission, joined the group because he has seen the arguments between rural, urban and suburban residents in public meetings about the land-use code. He was interested in residents with different perspectives having a chance to tell their stories in a respectful environment.
Farmers and ranchers generally feel they take good care of the land that others cherish for the sweeping views, he said.
But for many producers, their land is far more than a view; it generally represents much of their net worth, he said.
“It’s rough when people tell us what we can and can’t do with our retirement fund,” he said.
However, he said he believes urban and rural residents can agree on many of the same goals, such as preserving and protecting wildlife.
In the long term, Stein said she wants the group to model a new approach to address community problems that reduces discord and increases the ability to develop solutions.
“The best and most durable solutions are the ones that are arrived at collaboratively,” she said.
The group’s founders included Gary Skiba and Bliss Bruen, a well-known community organizer who died in September. The core group of organizers now includes, Thorn, Stein, Minkler and Greg Felsen.
The group expects to meet monthly. A date for the March meeting has not been set.
For more information, visit facebook.com/LaPlataCivilDialogue