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Thread: Public participation and local planning

  1. #1
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    Public participation and local planning

    Does anybody else think that there is too much inefficient public participation in our current development and planning decisions? How involved, do you think citizens, planners, elected councillors and state politicians should be in development control?

  2. #2
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Maybe this is too simple a question:

    Without public participation, how do you know what a community wants?
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  3. #3
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    I tend to agree that the amount and type of public participation is too great, or maybe it is just that I have always worked in low capacity / low functioning communities.

    I know what most communities want - no planning, do i really have to go to a public hearing to hear that? A few quality lines from my public particiaption experiences

    1) A guy got up and turned to the MLA in attendance - "We did not put you there to do this to us" - said from a man whose business was digging gravel from the stream bed, why because it is already washed and sorted.

    2) "There's white man's law and ther's crow's law and aI aint no expeitive racial slur" (crow = the family name).
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    There's a difference in my mind between development controls (formulation of new plans and regulations) and development review. The more public involvement in the fomer, the better as you'll have more consensus in setting up the rules of the game. However, development review tends to be where the NIMBYs can have too much influence in my opinion. Just because obstructionist neighbors don't want something doesn't mean there's a real reason to deny it. If there's a reason to deny the development then the regulations probably shouldn't allow it to begin with.

    Then again, when you look at some of the more severe eminent domain cases around the country, you wonder whether there was any public participation process at all. I'd also like to see renters, rather than just owners, be more involved - especially in urban areas.

  5. #5

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    There is no legitimate reason for planning without public involvement - the more the better. Indeed, the most important set of skills any planner can have are those of facilitation, mediation, training, etc.

    If you don't like working in a fishbowl this is not the profession for you.

  6. #6
    Great topic!

    If there is inefficient public participation, it is our fault. Planning is as much about educating the public as it is about regulating development. donk is right, of course, that there are people that will not accept planning under any circumstances -- and they are not limited to his former neck of the woods, they are truly everywhere. But there are a lot of other folks out there that are interested and that can contribute. We have to find them and nurture them.

    Unfortunately, some of the public manage to get elected or appointed to various boards and commissions. I wonder why it is that so often many of them are the un-educatable types
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  7. #7
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    There is no legitimate reason for planning without public involvement - the more the better. Indeed, the most important set of skills any planner can have are those of facilitation, mediation, training, etc.

    If you don't like working in a fishbowl this is not the profession for you.
    As usual, Lee puts it into words better than I could have.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  8. #8
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    What frustrates me about public invovlement are the so called 'experts' that do nothing more than beat the hornets nest. We have had serveral run ins with such groups. They cannot understand that we all have pretty much the same goal, but they will not settle for a comprehensive plan, they just want a ___fill in the bank__ .

  9. #9
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    Great topic!

    If there is inefficient public participation, it is our fault. Planning is as much about educating the public as it is about regulating development. donk is right, of course, that there are people that will not accept planning under any circumstances -- and they are not limited to his former neck of the woods, they are truly everywhere. But there are a lot of other folks out there that are interested and that can contribute. We have to find them and nurture them.

    Unfortunately, some of the public manage to get elected or appointed to various boards and commissions. I wonder why it is that so often many of them are the un-educatable types
    I really agree with this statement. It is up to us as planners to make public participation efficient and productive. Had I realized how much public interaction there was in this job, I may not have done it. However, I have gotten used to it and see its benefits. Lee is right--we are a fishbowl profession and are obligated to consider the needs of the community, not just our wants.

    Personally, if the CIty Council would just declare me King and Benevolent Dictator, the whole planning process would go much smoother!

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Public Participation good, Self-selected PP Bad

    Generally I support more public participation in planning. After all, the community generally belongs to its residents.

    However, I hate public hearings because they are self-selected. People choose to come to the hearing generally because they have a problem with what is proposed- the people who support it usually don't come, and certainly are outlasted by those opposed. The people who choose to come are also usually more wealthy, more white, have less kids, and are more "theoretical" than those who stay at home or at work instead.

    Ideally, there would be a lot more survey research as part of all planning. Its really expensive but how else do you really know you have reached a stratified random sample of your population? One place I worked did a survey as part of their regional plan update- that was the only time I saw it done. Otherwise its the usual public hearings and meetings at which you generally don't learn much about what the overall public really wants. And then you are faced with the unfortunate situation of (1) going along with those who come to the hearing, even if you don't agree that they speak for the community or (2) saying you know there are people out there that don't agree with those at the hearing, leaving open the question - how do you know that?

    One compromise approach I am trying is to do proactive outreach to key stakeholders prior to a process beginning- that way they will get engaged in the process early and you can also feel more informed when you say what the "public" wants.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Public participation....

    There has to be the right mixture of professional planning and public participation to obtain the best outcome. The public will keep us honest and on the right path, but we must keep ourselves grounded in common sense. The most important aspect of our jobs in the public sector has to be our sales pitch. We can know the correct path, but if we can't convey the direction in a convincing way, then it doesn't matter how smart we are or how great we think our plans can be......
    Skilled Adoxographer

  12. #12
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    There is no legitimate reason for planning without public involvement - the more the better. Indeed, the most important set of skills any planner can have are those of facilitation, mediation, training, etc.

    If you don't like working in a fishbowl this is not the profession for you.
    I am just curious about how one functions in environments were civility does not exist, greed and ignorance are prevalent and the public sees no other interest either than their own and refuses to look past their own lot line and pocket book.

    It excites me to hear of projects in which simulataneous tranlslation in 50 languages is happening (regent Park redevelopment) and the public are contributing to the betterment of the community, it is just that all of the comunities I have experience in (even my current one) the individual's bias and self interest outways current and future residents interests and the public good.

    I think you can have all of the mediation/education/presentation skills you want, but if the group you are presenting to has a set agenda and is low functioning / agressive there is very little good or useful input achieved from public participation.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  13. #13
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    Like many of you, i believe that any degree of public participation may be considered 'too much' if it's ineffective in practice. There is the underlying problem of selective participation by small, vocal special interest groups, resulting in decisions that generated substantial personal benefits for a limited number, often to the detriment of the wider community. I think the best approach to achieve efficient participation is to promote demand for participation from ALL sectors of the community through the redesign of the incentive structure for participation.

    I understand many of you work as planners. I would really like to know, that when it comes to development control, what are the relationships between the planners, elected councillors and state politicians? How involved are each party in the processes? How would you change these relationships to acheive a more effiecnt process?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by YC2D
    There is the underlying problem of selective participation by small, vocal special interest groups, resulting in decisions that generated substantial personal benefits for a limited number, often to the detriment of the wider community.
    Matton has a huge problem with this. Their thought is, if someone has money to spend downtown, it has to be better then what we have. Our redevelopment plan was catered to two larger businesses. Resulting in the demolition of 8 buildings and displacing 5 small businesses, 3 of which closed or moved out of town. Three of the buildings have already been razed and the developer's plans have allready changed. The tenants of the other five buildings got thier eviction notice this week.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by YC2D
    I understand many of you work as planners. I would really like to know, that when it comes to development control, what are the relationships between the planners, elected councillors and state politicians? How involved are each party in the processes? How would you change these relationships to acheive a more effiecnt process?
    Here is a pessimistic outline, your legislation may vary

    1) Politicians ask planners to development plans
    2) Planners develop plans - with or without public consultation and with some direction from the politicos
    3) Politicians review and approve the standards
    4) Planners work with standards, then when there is an application that differs from the standards(variances, rezonings, OPA's), the politicians are back involved.
    5) The politiicans then complain that the planners have not done their job and proceed to ignore the standards that they approved or ask why the standards are not tougher.


    How would I change the process, for some items I would allow the planner to make a decision (like politicians need to be involved with every minor variance application or land division application)

    I'll add more as I think about it.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  16. #16
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by YC2D
    Like many of you, i believe that any degree of public participation may be considered 'too much' if it's ineffective in practice. There is the underlying problem of selective participation by small, vocal special interest groups, resulting in decisions that generated substantial personal benefits for a limited number, often to the detriment of the wider community. I think the best approach to achieve efficient participation is to promote demand for participation from ALL sectors of the community through the redesign of the incentive structure for participation.

    I understand many of you work as planners. I would really like to know, that when it comes to development control, what are the relationships between the planners, elected councillors and state politicians? How involved are each party in the processes? How would you change these relationships to acheive a more effiecnt process?
    It's all about education and training. A well educated Board can weed out the obvious NIMBY crowd, and see the real issues that get raised by the public. A big part of our jobs as planners is to see to it that our board members and officials understand the "big picture" and basic planning principles. Having a well prepared board is the best way to get effective planning & development review at the local level.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  17. #17

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    donk - There are communities in which no one can succeed, regardless of skills. It may be due to greed, short-sightedness, etc., but from an operational point-of-view it is because the people of that community do not want something (and in such places what they usually end up wanting is an end to the controversy that is generated by their poor behavior) badly enough to set aside their differences and find avenues for progress.

    Despite your experiences, I don't think there are that many such places. I think a creative planner can find areas of common ground in most communities, and I think happy planners pursue the areas of agreement while waiting for progress along those lines to open up possibilities for agreement in other areas.

  18. #18

    Citizen Planner

    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner
    It's all about education and training. A well educated Board can weed out the obvious NIMBY crowd, and see the real issues that get raised by the public. A big part of our jobs as planners is to see to it that our board members and officials understand the "big picture" and basic planning principles. Having a well prepared board is the best way to get effective planning & development review at the local level.
    I cannot agree more! I am a true citizen planner... I am appointed to our city planning commission and I have no background in development or any of the related disciplines... Our professional planner has done a great job. If I ever have a question they have been more than willing to spend time to educate me. Our city also budgets funds for the citizen planners to attend the state's zoninig association annual meeting which is all about education.

    Professional planning staff comes and goes due to career opportunities elsewhere and they don't always live in the community they are planninng for.... The citizen member of the commission must live with the recommendations... why would you not want that input?

    At least in our town the balance between professional staff planner doing the techincial side, the appointed citizen planning commission making recommendations, and the political city counil making decisions appears to be a great balance that works.

  19. #19
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    Try an integrated charrette process. Many communities in BC have or are using this process to good effect.

    This is not just an exercise to draw pretty pictures (for a development site or a region), but a real, constructive process in which public representatives work WITH the developer and the planner and the Town Councillor to CREATE the plan. It's proactive, rather than the typical reactive public hearing process.

    The secret is to have the citizenry elect their representatives to be part of the team and report back. Developers also like it; even though they theoretically lose some control over the design process during the charrette, the resulting plan has built-in citizen support already, making their development application process much less onerous (and thus, less costly).

    See: http://crmforms.parklane.com/EastFra...raserlands.htm for an example of a developer who used a charrette process and http://www.sgog.bc.ca/uplo/MRProcessCaseStudy.pdf for an example of how it worked in a Vancouver suburb.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Dashboard's avatar
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    So how does everyone find a balance between 30 people showing up at a public hearing, ardently opposing a proposed rezoning and the fact that the master plan (whether up-to-date or out of date) supports it? I'm always curious how other planners decide what wins out...of course, I realize that many other factors contribute to decisions...but I am speaking generally.

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