Week 13 (November 25) -- Evaluating Planning and Participation Processes?

Do you think participation should be mandated in urban and regional planning processes? If so, what do you think should be mandated, and why? How would you propose enforcing the mandates?


I do believe that participation should be required in urban and regional planning processes. The tricky part is that planners and planning agencies need to believe in the value of public participation in order to carry it in a productive and meaningful way. If participation is required but those in charge don't believe in its value, participation will be carried out in a way that checks off that requirement but does not feel like true participation. And, it will not be productive. Thus, in a way, I feel like the best way to enforce participation mandates is to make visible successful case studies and testimony from local planning about public participation.

I think that Burby as well as Brody, Godchalk, and Burby offer some constructive suggestions about what should be inlcuded in public participation processes. Burby talks about the need for "early and often" participation, including a broad range of stakeholders and keeping the process continually open to new stakeholders, using a range of participation techniques, and finding ways to communicate clear information to the public involved in the process. Brody, Godchalk, and Burby suggest requiring a written participation plan, having clear objectives of the participation process (approved by elected officials), having "early and often" participation, targeting all stakeholders, using a range of participation techniques, and providing as much data as possible in clear ways to the public involved. I feel that these suggestions would be helpful in promoting productive public participation in the planning process.

While I believe participation is vital in public planning processes, I hesitate to agree that it should be mandated. First of all, I agree with Derek: Requiring it will often mean agencies will go through the motions without creating a meaningful participation process. Secondly, it is often difficult for public agencies to have more requirements added without additional resources. To fund a participation process, what might an agency need to cut from its budget? If there was a way to avoid these two problems, then I would agree that participation should be mandated as part of a public planning process.

For me, I would say it depends. I think in the macro level (i.e. state-required regional planning), mandatory participation may have very positive outcomes, as explained in the case study of Washington State. In this case, a simple statute requiring local government bodies to involve the public is needed. This provision would be easy to enforce because prior to approval the local government must supply evidence that it used diverse stakeholders in its planning processes.

For lesser bodies of government, I feel that forced participation may cause more harm than benefit. I am a staunch supporter of not usurping local government power, and leave it to the local bodies of government to decide for their jurisdiction if all planning decisions should require public participation. Not all local bodies of government are alike, and in some cases, forced public participation (especially bringing in people who are not educated in the plan) may not be the best solution. In this regard, forced participation will in many instances be superfluous and drain scant public resources best suited for something else.

Mandating participation is not a good idea. Encouraging participation and hiring planners with a specific skill-set in participation facilitation would not be a bad idea. With participation mandated, planners will end up going through the motions and may find themselves in a rut where they use the same tools and look for the same ideas plan after plan. Participation will become a monotonous part of the project that is only done because it has to be. Additionally, it is likely that funds will be spent on projects where participation is not necessary nor conducted effectively.

I do think that planners should be hired whose job it is to decide what projects require participation and who have the skills to best facilitate the process. I think that will allow better efficiency, ideas, and outcomes in the planning process.

This all needs to be case-specific. I agree with the folks above in that a mandatory outreach clause in state-level legislation would immediately increase project costs, and would also devolve into mere lip service and, unfortunately, those conducting the outreach would simply go through the motions just because they have to. Getting back to case specificity, for a minor infrastructure project, outreach is just unnecessary. For a large-scale redevelopment project at the center of a large metropolitan area that involves the conversion of a historic site, public/green space, has a jobs provision, and has mixed-use residential and retail components, outreach is absolutely critical and must be calculated into the project budget at the front end.

If participation processes are to be mandated, they might be enforced either by a supra-regional governing body, some sort of state auditor, or a more locally-rooted board composed of community members and stakeholders with a vested interest in ensuring effective outreach and good planning. I must admit, I do see some value in mandating public outreach (despite the cost-prohibitive nature of such a requirement). I think a lot of communities have had very mediocre development projects slammed into the center of their community, and this can have very deleterious effects on the social, political, and economic landscapes of a locality or region. Certain larger-scale developments truly have the potential to make or break a community; with the powers of place-making comes the potential for place-breaking. In light of this, perhaps requiring some level of consultation with those most affected by such developments wouldn't be such a bad thing.

I think that the word mandate is a bit too "strong" for planning processes. I agree with Abby that encouraging participation would be a better way to communication with the residents. In general, when something (events, parties, or planning processes) is encouraged, people are more like to participate than the idea of being mandated to attend (people do not like being forced). When people are participating in their own will, they are more likely to have high interest or interested in the project. A project with people with many people interested would more likely to create better or more successful participation processes.

In order to have high participation, the city, planners, or planning agencies have to provide transparent information early and continuously to the public so that they have all the available information (low inclusion). This is a way of empower the citizen. When citizens feel that by participate in the process they assert a degree of impact on the project, then they are more likely to participate in the process without feeling like they are mandated to participate (high participation).

I do agree that public participation should be mandated to a certain extent; the level of that participation depends on the scope of the project to involve participation. When stating it should be mandated, I interpret that more as opening up the opportunity for stakeholders to participate, not so much to force them to participate.

In the case study this week, a plan was well laid out on how and when stakeholders and the community would be involved in the process. I would have liked to see the community at large, or even the stakeholders, involved in the process earlier to work together to come up with this process. However, I do think that this process was well designed and that every community member needs to be involved in every stage of the process.

For example, the case study process diagrams identifies staff and consultant responsibilities as one of the first steps in the process. The entire community does not need to be involved in that detail.

Again, I don't mean to keep bringing up the financial side of things, but I do think it is important to consider the resources, including personnel, it is going to take to accomplish the level of participation you desire. It may be important to prioritize projects to best utilize the resources you have available.

I do believe that a plan that involves more people early on in the stage will result in a plan that has better buy in during implementation. Plans that involve participation during development, rather than as a reactionary process, tend to have better results. It seems that you it is beneficial to put more effort in the development stages rather than reacting to opposition at a Public Hearing because stakeholders were not involved.

I don't think public participation should be mandated, but rather be adopted as a "best practices" type of model. In fact, at least here in Minneapolis and St. Paul it has become a natural part of the planning process, realizing that citizens are happier and more supportive if they have ownership or input in the process. This isn't to say that public participation methods and outreach couldn't be improved but there is an understanding that transparency is important.

I'd think that we as planners would understand the desire to have input on plans and policies that affect your city or neighborhood as that is what motivates many of us to go into this field - the ability to have influence on the urban or rural areas in which we live. Similarly, much like the golden rule, we should involve citizens in our planning processes with the thought that in turn we can participate in the planning processes of our communities. Especially if we work in a different city than we live in.

I like Eden's "Golden Rule" approach and I think that a way of formalizing it would be to mandate a consideration of public participation level in a planning process. For example, the administrating level of government would require a memo from a project sponsor that discusses:
1. The reasons that public participation is needed in the planning process and;
2. Outlines a corresponding plan of action.

In some cases, the action may be small and mostly informative, in others, the actions may be complex and reach out to many stakeholders. Either way, the project staff would have had to consider the role of public participation early on in the process, and this system would greatly improve the match between the public's impact on a project and their level of participation.

As everyone has stated, the requirement to mandate participation for planning projects will result in sub-par standards. Engaging a 'bottom rung' excercise of the participatory ladder is a waste of time and resources. Completely ignoring participation is even more inefficient though, in that it final outcomes may create irrevocable problems.

On its face, I think utilizing the idea of a planning commission is meant to accomplish this, with citizens reviewing and processing applications as a step in the process of development. In a perfect world, we could avoid the political backlash and professional gainthat comes with appointments to planning commissions and have a truly objective body review and decide on projects. Perhaps if this concept was decentralized and brought down to a neighborhood level, it could be implemented in a more effective way? Utilizing the broad network of neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis would be an interesting way of trying new methods....

I would have to agree with the larger group above and say that enforcing something as inflexible as a mandate on a process that in many cases has such a diverse set of challenges would only be confounding an already challenging issue. Furthermore when public participation becomes mandatory i would argue that not only do those facilitating the process become disinterested but the public may as well. You have to consider that there is a limited pool of individuals who at any given time will have the means/time to participate and if there is an overwhelming amount of public meetings to go to it may draw interest/support away from key projects in a community/region. Not to mention resources as almost everyone has stated above. In addition creating mandated involvement may foster the idea that public officials are no longer genuinely interested in involving the public in important decision but rather are required to. I simply don't believe that such a hard and fast rule can be applied to such a dynamic process.

I also agree with Eden that public participation should be used as a “best practices� however; I believe it should be best practices in the initial research process of planning. Burby stated in “Making Plans that Matter� the key for planners is to “work hard to both educate and learn from the citizens�. I really appreciate the “learn� in his comment as the importance of participation is not only informing the public of planning efforts but using the public as an important informational resource to help understand the needs of the community..

The Austinplan is a good example of taking on a large scale level of participation in efforts to better understand the needs of a community. However, even the Austin plan recognized that the participants were not a true representation of all the public’s opinion on the topic. For this reason, I think it is even more important to actively recruit stakeholders from the fringes who may have unique perspectives on issues that would otherwise not be considered. While increased participation enriches the outcome forced participation efforts may actually harm relationships with the community. A required community meeting that has no intention of actively engaging the participants in the plan will harm genuine future participatory efforts.

I am in agreement with a point made earlier by George, mandating participation is a good idea for larger scale planning (i.e. regional planning) These processes affect more people and need to remain transparent and public. But to mandate every planning process including small and private planning is somewhat of a stretch from reality. Less would be accomplished and processes would take much longer. Even if only small plans affecting a relatively small amount of people are in order.

With respect to plans for development, extended processes due to unnecessary extensive participation could create more costs and limit smaller developers from competition. This could, if made mandatory, over the long run eliminate many developers from existence and only benefit developers with deep pockets who can afford delays.

I think the public should always have the opportunity to get involved in the planning process; that said, I think it's more important to mandate a transparent, open planning process--the type of process that makes it possible for citizens to get involved in the planning process with a reasonable level of effort.

I also think that intelligent planners will realize that reaching out to the public at appropriate times is in their own best interest, and can often help avoid (or at least eclipse) common stumbling blocks along the lines of NIMBY.

In addition, I think that competency is an important issue (what with the amount of money and effort my MURP class has invested in learning the intricacies of urban planning, and the number of things we've learned we still don't know in a year and a half, I take some offense at the notion that the average citizen can effectively plan a community or a neighborhood) even so, the public generally knows what it wants, and there's something of an obligation there for public servants in a democracy. The public often does not know, however, what planning tools will allow it to get what it wants; in many cases, popularly suggested solutions work at cross purposes with popularly stated goals--uniform two-acre lots to preserve open space, or widening freeways to alleviate traffic, for example. I think the best planners strongly encourage the type of public involvement in the planning process that allows them to act as a bridge across that gap of expertise.

I do believe mandating participation in urban and regional processes is a step in the right direction. The character of that participation is, I think we've come to a consensus, where the fish gets filleted. Where mandated (or simply overzealous) public participation has failed (as in Atlanta and in Austin) is when it unduly raises expectations that the outcome will be anything other than incremental.

In both Atlanta and Austin, there was feedback from the participants (paraphrasing) that they were thankful for the civic lesson and feel like more educated members of the citizenry. But when it came to actually making a difference, many were left feeling deflated. There are many other measures to define the quality of the end product, but it is clear that the length of the process and oscillation of participants (government and citizens) is setting everyone up for a fall.

Thus, the modest proposal for mandating participation I submit would focus on the art of the possible by moderating but not minimizing expectations, creating targeted but important opportunities for building trust in the value of participation and by scaling back efforts to focus on how to reward and demonstrate the effectiveness of participation to the public.

Sometimes it becomes all too much to attack such mammoth issues such as a regional plan, introduce responsibility on planners and participants to participate in the same juggling act, _and_ expect a quality result. By mandating quality not quantity of participation, enforced by a metric of public satisfaction with having made a difference. Participation, if mandated, must be stacked in such a way that the participants and the plan have the best possible chance of success.

I should also add that I find it interesting that in Austin, the participants in Austinplan were for more likely to be focused on the importance of the "tax base" than the non-participants. It would seem that participation processes have the net benefit of getting regular folks to see things through the eyes of government.

Yes, public participation should be required in the urban/regional planning process. Allowing the public to participate does not force planners, etc. to necessarily heed their comments. This caveat is important because individuals may not have the public's interest in mind - but planners should be able to see above personal agendas. Indeed, when the public is engaged in planning processes with decision making power, it is absolutely crucial that they adequately represent all those involved, and not just their interests.

In order to get meaningful public involvement, I agree with the previously mentioned idea that incentives should be developed to encourage participation. The incentive may be as simple as allowing the public to have real power in the process.

I agree with one of our classmates that it's the quality of public involvement that's important. Mandating public participation processes has the potential to create a general disinterest in the process before learning what the key issues are related to. On the other hand perhaps a modified requirement of participation could be explored. In situations where it is critical that the citizenry be involved and their lack of involvement could have some detrimental effect, then perhaps some stronger participation requirement could be implemented. My fear of mandates is that it's such a strong term that people will immediately rebuke the process in its entirety.

I agree with many of the posting that state mandating public participation can go too far at least for some planning activities. The question is who decides what plans are to be mandated? Mandatory planning raises some other questions. Who shall be required to participate in the urban and regional planning process? What criteria will be used to determine whose planning ideas are to be implemented? Should all or just some planning decisions be mandated? My first impression to the later question is it depends on what is being planned. There may be a certain level of expertise involved in a planning project. Planning should be required for certain types of plans that require expertise in forecasting the implications of major engineering projects or a public policy that directly effects public safety or the over all welfare of the public. E.g. some level of planning would have to into plans to build a water purification system or a bridge. Planning by those qualified in these subject areas should be required for public safety. Planning would be required in these cases before a project can be approved. Public participation should be encouraged so policy decision makers with special knowledge do not overlook the needs and concerns of the public at large.

On the other hand, public meetings that are compulsory could over time become counterproductive. Meetings that are forced may become routine and the process of creativity in planning is diminished over time by the desire to simply complete the planning process and move on (as some have suggested). People may also be less inclined to engender new creative ideas, if they are forced to plan for something that have little interest or stake in. In cases where the public safety is not jeopardized, mandated planning probably would not likely lead to more efficacious plans, since many who show up to these meeting do so out of obligation and not necessarily for their interests. Mandated planning would need to be prioritized where planning becomes critical.

I am surprised that so many of my classmates feel that mandating some level of public participation is undesirable. While I understand that there is a high level of training and expertise held by an urban planner, the idea that the public should have no voice in planning efforts that directly impact them is puzzling to me. Public participation can offer insights that planners may overlook.

In the history of our city, many decisions that have been made "top down" have led to disasterous results. One example I can think of is the razing of the Sumner Field, Glenwood, Lyndale and Olson public housing projects. No one considered what would happen to the residents of these public housing towers when they were demolished to make room for Heritage Park. While Heritage Park ultimatley as been a success for the city, the fact that no one considered the needs of the residents who were displaced does not make sense to me. Perhaps if there had been mandated public participation in the planning process, the needs of these residents would have been considered. I am not advocating that the Heritage Park development should not have occured, but that through public participation, plans could have been made to ensure housing for those residents displaced.

As planners we need to be planning for the common good. I believe that ensuring some level of pubblic participation that actually matters to the plan makes sure that our plans are as effective as possible and include the perspectives of those most impacted by them.

I like the idea of creating incentives for public participation. Let’s face it…people are extremely busy, and finding the time to participate in planning processes can be a real challenge. Couple this time constraint with the fact that the majority of the public is disinterested in participation (my assumption) and you have a real problem. Therefore, rather than mandating public participation we should focus on creating incentives like, as mentioned above, giving the people real power in the decisions making process. Or, how about subsidizing public involvement? Has this been done before? This is a little off the topic of incentives, but I would also propose the idea of creating citizen committees that work with planning commissions or governing bodies to promote citizen involvement.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs