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NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro hosts first-ever Policy Slam Competition

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A community member shares their presentation during the NEXT Policy Slam Competition at Speakeasy Carrboro on Thursday, April 11, 2024.

On April 11, around 40 Chapel Hill and Carrboro community members gathered at Speakeasy Carrboro to witness and partake in the first Policy Slam "Lightning Talk" Competition, hosted by NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and UNC’s Community, Equity and Sustainability workgroup.

The event provided the opportunity for seven contestants to share local urban planning policies that can help create a more equitable community.

Each contestant had five minutes to present their policy. Once the contestants had presented, the audience was given 10 minutes to vote for the proposal they thought was the most impactful.

Molly DeMarco, a founding board member of NEXT — a nonprofit that promotes accessible and inclusive local policy — said the event was hosted to encourage community members to consider policies that would advance equity and to start a dialogue about taking collective action.

The Policy Slam was a good example of civic action, contestant and UNC sophomore Sawyer Husain said. His presentation focused on gender-based discrimination and harassment on public transit.

“What I’m really interested and fascinated in is urban life and how cities work,” Husain said. “This was the perfect opportunity to do something about increasing equity, but also with my personal passion for urban life and transit.”

Whitney Hall, a first-year UNC student studying city and regional planning, placed first in the competition. Hall heard about the event through Build U.P. UNC, an urban planning organization for undergraduate students, and she presented about the inequities perpetuated by historic districts in Chapel Hill.

Hall said it is important for the community to know that students are active and involved stakeholders, and that students should share their feelings and opinions because there are people willing to listen.

“I think that sometimes the student body as a whole is pushed aside as this one entity,” she said. “When in fact, many of them have unique stories and unique opinions to tell.”

Contestant and first-year UNC graduate student Juliet Alegria advocated for accessible public restrooms at the event. She said the lack of 24-hour bathrooms leads to many social disparities, and the Policy Slam provided a fun and formal platform to share her outlook on local policy.

“As residents of Chapel Hill, you have a voice,” Alegria said. “And it’s important to use that to advocate for things that you care about.”

Other topics, such as single-family zoning and parking availability, were presented by undergraduate students, graduate students, alumni and professionals in the field. Town council members also attended the Policy Slam, as the declared policies offered potential reforms to existing systems.

René Iwo, a NEXT board member and doctoral student at UNC, said he was pleasantly surprised by the Policy Slam. He felt the event’s biggest achievement was bringing people from different backgrounds together to engage and be active in the community.

“I think this is the most successful we’ve been at bringing diverse people into the same room in the past year,” he said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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