We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.
– Winston Churchill
Churchill’s comment about architecture applies equally to community and land use planning. The way we design and build our civic spaces profoundly affects the health, productivity, and quality of life of every resident. Whose perspectives then, could be more important in a community planning process than those of the people who live in that community?
Meaningful public involvement in the planning process is worth a local government’s time and money — Here’s why:
To Enhance The Quality Of Planning
Planning professionals, with their training and experience, are invaluable to the planning process. They cannot, however, be expected to foresee and understand every variable that may affect a project’s outcome. On the other hand, residents may lack an understanding of the principles and processes of planning, but do bring valuable information and perspectives to the table. In the long run, programs and projects that derive from an informed public, guided by professionals, are likely to be more creative and locally appropriate than those where the public is excluded from the planning process.
To Avoid Contention Between Interested Parties
At planning commission and city council meetings, disputes over planning issues generally result when groups or individuals approach a project with a narrow perspective considering only questions of density, use, and personal agendas. A proactive planning process, which includes a well-designed public involvement component, encourages individuals to consider the big picture question of whether or not a proposed plan will enhance or damage the quality of life in the neighborhood and region in which it is built. It allows the community to make decisions based on shared goals and values. Furthermore, such a process allows residents to understand exactly what they are getting, assuring better public approval at build-out.
To Ensure Swift And Efficient Project Implementation
Public opposition can result in the expensive slowing or stopping of good projects. Projects that develop strong public buy-in through participation are less likely to experience such impediments and their associated costs.
To Ensure That Good Plans Remain Intact Over Time
City councils, planning commissions, city managers, and planners come and go. Therefore, even the best of plans are at risk of being dismantled over time. By involving residents in the planning process, a planning team can ensure that plans will have a long-lasting and stable constituency.
To Foster A Sense Of Community And Trust In Government
Out of our effort to have thousands of in the community participate, came the Seventh Principle of the new general plan: Public Participation will be a permanent part of achieving a greater city. The Seventh Principle has changed government, making it more open, responsive and effective. It has also raised the level of trust among residents — not trusting in city hall, but trusting that they own city hall.
— Rick Cole, Former Mayor of Pasadena, California
There are a variety of visual/graphic tools and techniques that can be used to involve the public in the planning process.