Are they local commission meetings, as in neighborhood-by-neighborhood? Or are they city-wide commissions?
I would like to start attending these. (The only issue with this is that they most likely hold these during working hours? Or are they on the weekends?)
They are usually city wide and held at city hall. And yes sadly they are during working hours. Which is why you usually get the little old ladies that don't want anything to be build in their neighborhoods. I used to attend them while in grad school to understand the process. It's a little bit of theater. Usually you sit with people that work for the planning department to see if you project meets the zoning code. Things can often be "interpreted" in different ways so its good to get their opinion. Then it goes in front of the review board for approval. Usually the staff at the planning department provides a recommendation to the board. But they don't have to follow it.
But that is more of a reactionary method for stuff getting approved now. Looking forward its important to urge to city officials the desire for mixed use urban walkable communities. Most of this comes from zoning. In development I personally want to develop sustainable communities, but let's be honest most people don't go into real estate for charity. I usually crunch the numbers and my partner who is an architect focuses on the design. I usually dictate what happens because you can developer a crappy project that makes money but you cant develop and great design that doesn't.
So as most people here know it all comes down to money which is why this site is designed the way it is. It's the cheapest design allowable by zoning. If you want the developer to build project that has more risk then there needs to be some extra sort of incentive.
Reduce my parking requirements for mixed use. After all if I have an office building and residential using the same parking lot the office residents park during the day and residents park at night. No need for a single space for everyone.
Allow me more floor to lot rations (FAR). Most codes only allow you to build a certain amount of space as a ratio. So for example if you have an FAR of 3 that means on a 40,000 SF lot you can build 120,000 SF. Well make the FAR higher for mixed use and lower for single use. This makes the land more valuable only as a mixed use projects. That does two things. If the developer owns the land hes incentivized to build mixed use. And then land owners want the highest value so they tend to only sell it at rates where the developer has to do mixed use in order to be profitable.
Changing setback requirements. You can require that the buildings facade abuts the front and side street in mixed use districts. This helps create walkable streets and pushes parking to the secondary streets usually in the rear.
I believe they addressed some of these issue in the Downtown district. But our suburbs are still growing and really still provide a lot of the places that many people can afford.
The goal should be to provide people good options near where they work. So for example if you are a young professional and work in one of the office parks near Easton you shouldn't have to live downtown for a walkable environment.
There are plenty of studies that show that not only does this help build long lasting, more enjoyable communities but is also is more economically viable for the city. So for instance if you put residential on 10 acres and retail on 10 acres you get more money from putting them both on 7 acres and leaving the other 3 acres vacant. Then you start adding in the decrease in needed infrastructure, reduction in auto dependency, etc. and it just makes sense to incentivize this type of development.
Altering the zoning and getting rail should be the top priorities of the city right now.