In 1915, Robert E. Park and E. W. Burgess introduced the idea of "neighborhood" as an ecological concept with urban planning implications . Since then, many concepts and ideas of a neighborhood have emerged. Milton Kolter defines a neighborhood as, “…a political settlement of small territory and familiar association, whose absolute property is its capacity for deliberative democracy.” While most neighborhoods are difficult to define geographically, anyone who lives in an urban setting relates to an area that they call their neighborhood. As such, it is a useful level to engage in planning practice.
Neighborhood planning deals with a level of planning greater than household size but smaller than that of a city. In fact, one of the first steps in planning for a neighborhood is to define the boundaries of the neighborhood. This process can sometimes be problematic. It becomes difficult when some areas do not want certain streets or houses to be included in their neighborhood boundary. On the other hand, it can also be a problem if more than one neighborhood district attempts to claim a certain street or group of homes. Two less problematic neighborhood boundary definitions are based on natural objects like rivers and parks, or on dividing the area based on census information. If all else fails, public meetings and surveys can help the decision making process.
After the boundaries of the plan are established, officials need to decide how to get the neighborhood involved with the planning process. Most people wrongly assume that a neighborhood plan will be done democratically. In reality, a city official may do all of the planning with minimal contact or input from the residents. The plan may also be done by a small, self-selected group of residents who ignore input from others in the neighborhood. Either way, without involvement of as many neighborhoods as possible, the outcome may lack critical information and perspectives and thus not fully represent the desires of the neighborhood residents. This may create problems for the community.
Neighborhood planning can work with all scales of area, from city neighborhoods to rural areas. In the UK neighborhood planning in rural areas is led by Rural Community Councils who can assist rural communities or parishes in creating Parish Plans or Village Design Statements; a form of Community Led Planning. Other established methods exist including Market Town Intitiatives. Neighborhood plans are a way of empowering local residents to take responsibility for their areas.
The purpose of neighborhood planning is to understand what individual neighborhoods want to become. To understand this, public participation of neighbors is absolutely crucial. In reality, it is only at this level, where the actual number of parties is small, that true democratic decision making may be possible.
Many strategies may be used in to involve neighborhood residents in the planning process. Outreach methods can get the word out that planning is taking place. Planners can involve neighbors by collecting data and information about the area and how the residents use it. Residents can assist in the planning process itself. A democratic neighborhood plan includes all three methods.
Outreach Methods include five different techniques that may be used to inform the neighborhood that planning is taking place. The first type of method is personal contact and includes door-to-door visits and phone calls. This method is the most personalized, making it the most effective. It can also be the most time consuming. Time can be reduced by using a phone tree and distributing flyers to homes.
media—both printed and electronic—are useful communication methods. Many newspapers and radio stations will run a press release or public service announcement (PSA). Media outlets that won't disseminate information for free usually accommodate paid ad space.
The third form of outreach methods are field office/ drop-in centers. This involves having an actual place where members of the neighborhood can drop by and learn about the planning process (usually outside of a high traffic, high density area). These centers need to have an individual available to answer questions that neighbors may have. This is also a great opportunity to provide residents with surveys that would gather more information to assist the planners.
The fourth outreach method involves utilizing existing organizations as a way to inform residents on the planning process. This method can use varying strategies to accomplish its goal. One way is to obtain permission to insert brightly colored flyers into news publications or hang them in public offices or retail stores. Posters and papers displayed in public locations are a great way to utilize an existing organization.
The fifth and final form of outreach methods are displays at key settings. This method is similar to using flyers or advertisements as a way to inform residents of planning. However, is different in the way that it accomplishes this. This method involves using a large vacant lot or path of high traffic to display information to the neighbors. The lot needs to be in a central and busy area of the neighborhood to be effective. All of these methods are ways planners can collect information from neighbors and involve them in the planning process.
Other techniques of engagement can be carried out, the methodology chosen should be specific to the area and ideally be led by the local community. Questionnaires, workshops, exhibitions. Community development practitioners are often asked to assist with consultation as they can act as an independent facilitator to engagement.
After a valid and useful information source has been established, collecting information becomes easier. Collecting information is the first step in neighborhood planning. Planners combine the information they have gathered from residents with other information they have obtained from personal observation and surveying the land. They use all of this information to create a large, more informative picture of the neighborhood.
The second step in the neighborhood planning process is making sense of the information. This entails pinpointing issues and establishing the issues of major concern. Pinpointing issues helps define the ones that take precedence if they conflict with one another.
Setting goals is the third step of neighborhood planning. This step should come easily after certain issues and problems have been discovered. The goals that are set need to represent the community and what would best suit their interests.
The fourth step in the neighborhood planning process is to come up with alternatives and select among them. This involves the planning committee coming up with different alternatives for each goal. After these alternatives are established, the committee discusses and decides which alternatives are best suited to the goals. Probably combining all alternatives in a way that benefits reaching all goals in the least loss-causing way is the best alternative.
The fifth step of neighborhood planning is to put the plan together. Now that goals and policies have been established, strategies and specific courses of action need to be defined. This involves putting all of the elements together to create a plan.
The sixth step is to figure out how to implement the plan the committee has created. This requires the planning committee to decide what actions need to take place effectively implement the plan. The committee must decide what resources are available, and how to create more available resources. This step helps decide where funding and financial stability will come from.
The seventh and final step of neighborhood planning is monitoring, evaluating, and updating your plan. While this may be the final step of neighborhood planning, it does not mean that the planning process is finished. The committee still must decide which parts of the plan work. Plans that do not work should be revised. Because the plan can always be updated and changed, the process is never finished. Planning and sustaining a functional neighborhood involves iterations of work and decision making.
- Clay, Phillip L. Neighborhood Policy and Planning. Lexington : D.C. Heath and Company, 1983.
- Hester, Randolph T. Planning Neighborhood Space with People. New York :Van Nostrand Reinhold Company Inc. , 1984.
- Jones, Bernie. Neighborhood Planning. Chicago : American Planning Association , 1990.
- Louis Colombo and Ken Balizer, www.neighborhoodplanning.org
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