Neighborhood planning is a community-led approach to shaping the physical, social, and economic development of a local area.
It is a collaborative process that involves local residents, businesses, and other stakeholders in defining priorities and goals for neighborhoods and developing strategies to achieve them. The aim of neighborhood planning is to create a shared vision for the future of an area, and to ensure that development is guided by this vision.
Neighborhoods operate within complex, inter-related systems: political, cultural, economic, transportation, natural and more. Changes or challenges with any of these systems could be reason to pursue a neighborhood plan. There may be a lack of community structure, which can result in social isolation, crime, or disinvestment. Demographic changes such as population growth or decline may also be a sign that a neighborhood plan is needed. For example, if a neighborhood is experiencing a surge in population due to new development, a plan can help guide that future growth and development. If a neighborhood is experiencing a decline in population, a plan can help identify strategies for revitalization and stabilization. When new development is anticipated, a neighborhood plan can ensure that development is consistent with community goals and values. Other challenges that a neighborhood plan can help mitigate include flooding, pollution, traffic and mobility, or aging infrastructure.
7 Steps to Neighborhood Planning
The process of neighborhood planning typically involves a series of steps, which can include:
1. Defining the Area: The first step in neighborhood planning is to define the boundaries of the area that the plan will cover. This may be a single neighborhood or a group of neighborhoods, which then enables a review of existing conditions to understand how the neighborhood is functioning today.
2. Identifying Stakeholders: After the area is defined, stakeholders should be contacted and included in the process. Groups or individuals who are involved in the area must have a seat at the planning table. This can include business owners, property owners or renters, school district representatives, politicians, local leaders, government staff, and more.
3. Community Engagement: Community engagement is a critical component of neighborhood planning. It involves reaching out to stakeholders in the area to gather input and ideas for the Community meetings, stakeholder focus groups, surveys and open houses are all ways to engage the neighborhood and create an inclusive planning process.
4. Visioning: Once existing conditions have been defined, the next stage involves developing a shared vision for the future of the neighborhood. This might include identifying key priorities and goals, such as improving transportation, increasing affordable housing, or creating more green spaces.
5. Plan Development: The plan development stage involves working with community members and other stakeholders to develop strategies and policies to achieve the vision for the neighborhood. This may include zoning changes, land use policies, and infrastructure investments.
6. Plan Adoption: Once the plan has been developed, it must be adopted by the local government. This typically involves a public review process and approval by the city or town council.
7. Implementation: The reward of completing a neighborhood plan is watching it become a reality. This involves putting the plan into action, which may include municipal budgeting for infrastructure projects, neighborhood efforts to support social interactions, and working with developers and other stakeholders to ensure that new development aligns with the goals of the plan.
Planning Benefits and Case Studies
Neighborhood planning benefits communities in a multitude of ways. It can help to build community engagement and increase social capital, as residents and businesses work together to shape the future of their neighborhood. Additionally, neighborhood planning can help to create more livable, sustainable, and equitable communities by prioritizing the needs of residents and promoting smart growth and development. By engaging local residents and other stakeholders in the planning process, communities can create a collaborative, shared vision and ensure that development is guided by this vision for the foreseeable future.
There are many examples of strong neighborhoods, known for their community involvement, active neighborhood associations, and commitment to improving the quality of life for residents.
Here are a few examples:
Astor Park (Green Bay, WI): Astor Park is a historic neighborhood located in the heart of Green Bay. The Astor Park Neighborhood Association organizes events and activities for residents throughout the year. These events include block parties, a neighborhood-wide garage sale, and a holiday home tour. The Association also works to preserve and promote the historic character and has been successful in getting several homes in the area listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Czech Village|NewBo (Cedar Rapids, IA): The Czech Village and New Bohemia (NewBo City Market area) are two thriving historic neighborhoods in close proximity to Downtown Cedar Rapids on opposite banks of the Cedar River. Neighborhood Planning efforts in these communities over the past couple of decades has elevated these historic cultural gathering areas into wonderful places to visit, work, and live!
River East (Oshkosh, WI): River East is a neighborhood located on the eastern side of Oshkosh. It is known for its waterfront views and active participation in Downtown Oshkosh activities. River East was established in 2013 and is dedicated to promoting the interests and concerns of the residents in the area.
Macalester-Groveland (St. Paul, MN): Macalester-Groveland is an engaged neighborhood which includes a community council that fosters citizen participation in government and community decisions. It is located on the banks of the Mississippi River and just east of downtown St. Paul.
These neighborhoods demonstrate the power of community involvement and the importance of strong neighborhood associations in promoting a sense of belonging, engagement, and pride in one’s community. They are models for the values of neighborhood-focused planning and investment.
The Power of Planning
Neighborhood planning is done by and for the people who live there. This equation inherently sets the process up for success. Why? Because the ideas, challenges, and aspirations of individual citizens as well as the collective whole form the foundation of a neighborhood plan and help ensure that plan is implemented as envisioned. As they say, this is your neighborhood. Shape it, or someone else will.
Jason Valerius, AICP
Planning Team Leader and Senior Planner