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Neighborhood Planning: Citizen Involvement


First a little background for those of you that dont know me. Im a geography undergrad student that is planning on going to....planning school. Im taking a CRP class this semester and we had a couple of neighborhood planners come talk to us last week. We are discussiong neighborhood planning in my class now, mainly the community involvement side of it, and I have to write a paper as if I was a neighborhood planner and was describing my current project.

So my question is: What do you or your departments do to get people involved in their neighborhood planning proccesses? Are there any techniques that work better and/or save more money than mailing flyers and surveys?

One of the things I've come up with so far is first involving the community in writing it's own history or compiling a present report which features both the residents of the area and the businesses that share the space.



Staff member
Threaten 'em with a land use they would hate! Just kidding, but I've often considered it when people show up at planning meetings in droves if there is a perceived threat (land use, by nature).

Some things we have tried include flyers to neighborhood schools for each child to bring home; church bulletins; notes with utility bills, flyers in neighborhood industry pay envelopes; radio/tv/website/newspaper adverts. I've been to chili suppers, housing fairs, spaghetti suppers, school fairs, pancake breakfasts and so on.

The hardest part of these things, fueled, is getting the folks to think past the potholes, trash collection and weeds that need to be mowed, and to think 20 years out about things like density; land use; transportation; recreation; jobs; education and so forth.

Good luck with the paper!

Repo Man

I am in charge of the City’s neighborhood planning process and it sounds like you are on the right track. We send out a neighborhood questionnaire to each property owner. After the questionnaires are returned and the results tabulated we send the results back to every property owner and include a newsletter or cover letter asking for volunteers for a neighborhood committee. We also ask for the alderman from that area to recommend members if they know anyone who would be an asset to the committee. We have the committee members assist with the history and background sections as you mentioned. A lot of times they have information and photographs. The committee also participates in some visioning exercises, helps with recommendations for action plans, and reviews the final draft of the plan.

You mentioned not doing surveys or mailings. While that may save money, it will create all kinds of frustration and anger among residents. If you do an actual random survey, those who didn’t get it will scream and yell about not being asked their opinions. Even though most planners know that a random survey is far more accurate and useful than doing a questionnaire sent to everyone, most people don’t believe you when you tell them that. They feel that it isn’t fair if they are not asked. This I guarantee. By sending it to everyone, nobody can complain at the end they “had no idea that this planning process was even going on.” If they don’t participate in the process, their complains at the end shouldn’t carry much weight.

If you want to avoid the survey, I guess I would recommend working with the alderman/mayor/or other elected officials and have them help select a neighborhood planning committee.


The advantage of a small town comes in knowing people. With our downtown plan, I will spend an afternoon walking around the downtown with the planner we hired. We'll stop in and talk to the people at the businesses. We'll have lunch in one of the downtown restaurants (where a few people will likely stop in and say hello). We'll make a handful of appointments with key property owners. It's something of a personal touch.