“It’s not like ‘Kumbaya.’ It’s really a meaningful exchange.”
City and State’s Gerard Flynn recently published “5 Challenges to de Blasio’s Promise of Inclusive Planning“ which includes feedback from notable planners and practitioners around New York City (including Tom Angotti, a professor I was fortunate to study under at Hunter) with tips and critiques for true community engaged planning.
Mayor de Blasio’s very public charge to his planning commission is to lead planning and development with community input, rather than following the previous administration’s approach to growth which, the article suggests, aggressively facilitated development but was less focused on planning the context of development comprehensively or collaboratively.
The advice for the Mayor and his staff breaks down like this:
1. Comprehensive community planning takes a lot of time
2. Comprehensive community planning takes resources
3. Comprehensive community planning takes more than zoning
4. Comprehensive community planning begins in the community
5. Community planning hasn’t delivered in New York City [or, insert your city’s name here] in the past
As with our post two weeks ago, some of these themes seem awfully familiar suggesting — though every community is different and requires a thorough understanding of locally based knowledge — there are some common approaches that planners and community developers need to keep in mind no matter if they are working in NYC or Small Town USA.
Overcoming ingrained community distrust of the process and building trust (see #5 & #4) is no small hurdle and can’t be accomplished overnight (see #1), but neither will a realignment of layers of technocratic and bureaucratic inertia. Not only does community based planning require aligning at times disparate departments and investment streams (housing, infrastructure, services) (see #3), but also creating the flexibility within these structures to tailor a new working relationship to the local, neighborhood based context (see #4). Which brings us back, in a big way, to the resource question (#2).
Community planning is a worthy commitment, but it is certainly as much of a commitment as it is a worthy pursuit. Were there a wand and a spell (communitus planificus!?) to make it so, it would have happened already. That not being the case, making the commitment is the first — and arguably most important — step towards happier, healthier and more united communities.