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Planning at the Neighborhood Level

A Brief History of Neighborhood Planning

Neighborhood planning can be traced back as far as the settlement house movement in the late nineteenth century, an effort to address urban poverty, illiteracy, ill health, and criminal behavior. As time passed, the concept of neighborhood began to shift from a social focus to a geographical one. Like the settlement movement, the neighborhood movement was paternalistic in that there was no place for resident input in the planning process (Rohe and Gates 1985).

The evolving concept of the neighborhood is reflected in the Community Action Program and Model Cities, two federal programs in the 1960s to combat poverty. In the 1970s, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, a federally funded physical and social development initiative that required local resident participation in planning, implementation, and assessment, was established. Further, planners recognized the limitations of traditional city planning, which too often focused on business districts to the exclusion of neighborhoods. Neighborhood planning has emerged as a means of addressing the equitable distribution of public goods through decentralized, participatory, and action-oriented processes (Rohe and Gates 1985).

CDCs and Intermediaries as Neighborhood Stewards

Beginning in the 1960s, CDCs were established to address the needs of well-defined or targeted geographical areas (Twelvetrees 1996). Operating in both rural and urban communities, CDCs are multipurpose nonprofits engaged in a range of activities designed to benefit neighborhoods: improving the physical fabric of a community; focusing on housing and commercial revitalization; and leading to job creation, asset building, and social services, including youth and workforce development. While there is diversity in organizational capacity and effectiveness, CDCs have become key players in rebuilding neighborhoods.

Most CDCs rely on public and private support, including federal CDBG funds, low-income housing tax credits, state and local governments, banks, corporations, and foundations. Securing financial support is an ongoing challenge. Further, intermediary organizations, LISC, the National Community Development Initiative (NCDI), and others pool resources from a variety of public and private sources and distribute them to CDCs and also provide TA and serve as public policy advocates for the industry (Ferguson and Dickens 1999).

The Neighborhood Planning Process

Much of the success of CDCs is due to two core principles of community development: democratic decision making by those whose lives are affected, typically residents, and the community leadership development (Burkholder, Chupp, and Star 2003), including

• Promoting active and representative participation designed to provide all community members an opportunity to meaningfully influence decisions affecting their lives.

• Educating community members on community issues and the assorted economic, social, environmental, and political impacts associated with alternative courses of action.

• Incorporating diverse interests in the planning process and withdrawing support of any effort likely to have an adverse impact on disadvantaged members of the community.

• Enhancing the leadership capacity of residents and community organizations.

• Maintaining a willingness to utilize a broad range of strategies to support the long-term sustainability and community well-being (comm-dev. org/principles.htm).

This framework distinguishes between planning at the neighborhood level and neighborhood planning, a distinction largely a function of who initiates or controls the process. CDCs and other community-based organizations tend to be more concerned with ensuring that the process is resident or community led. While resident participation can be high in both city-initiated and community-based approaches, the community-based approach tends to have more resident control of the decision-making process (Peterman 2000).

LISCs play a unique role as a community development intermediary organization in neighborhood planning. On one hand, they provide financial and technical support to CDCs while supporting the activities of the organizations leading the planning process. Intermediaries do not presume to have the same relationship with residents and stakeholders as CDCs and therefore recognize the appropriateness of supporting a CDC-led process. At the same time, as a TA provider, intermediaries provide leadership.

Strengths and Limitations of Neighborhood Planning

There are advantages in neighborhood planning. One is that implementation is usually more successful, as evidenced by a greater number of physical improvements (Rohe and Gates 1985). Another strength is that neighborhood planning tends to be more responsive than comprehensive planning in terms of local characteristics, issues, and needs. Neighborhood planning can also strengthen communities through increased interaction among residents and others involved in developing the plan. Resident and organizational capacity are developed, and the planning process can generate momentum for creating change (Burkholder, Chupp, and Star 2003). Also, when residents and other stakeholders are truly engaged, neighborhood planning can be empowering, leading to increased stakeholder confidence, skills, and capacity, as well as cooperation. In these neighborhoods, residents and community-based organizations often become more proactive and are better prepared to respond to unwanted development. Long-term outcomes are improved because residents feel more attached to an environment that they helped create, which leads to better maintenance and less vandalism and neglect (Burkholder Chupp, and Star 2003).

Neighborhood planning is not without limitations, including economic, political, and logistical difficulties associated with planning. It may be difficult from an economic standpoint to implement a number of small programs. Economies of scale that can be achieved through city wide programs will be difficult in individual neighborhoods. Poor representation can be the result of low resident participation. Unclear or unrealistic expectations and responsibilities can hinder successful implementation of neighborhood plans (Burkholder, Chupp, and Star 2003).

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