What is Grassroots Community leadership and development?

An Introduction to Grassroots Community Leadership & Development part one.

Whether you’re a municipality or a neighborhood organization it is important to have a guiding vision for community and economic development. This article will discuss how to develop a shared vision that will guide neighborhood development. Michigan State University Extension offers a class titled: Strategic Planning, Smart Growth, and The Vision Statement that provides best practices and guidance regarding developing shared visions in the strategic planning and decision making process.

Community development at the neighborhood level is typically guided by grassroots leaders from a particular community or neighborhood. These leaders are usually people who are change agents and have a passion for implementing changes in their community. Typically, these grassroots community leaders are not waiting for municipal officials to make changes in their communities. Grassroots community leaders initiate the change process in their community by organizing and meeting with community members to begin the needs assessment, vision development and strategic planning process.

Grassroots community leaders are not opposed to collaborating with municipal officials, and municipal officials are open to collaborating with grassroots community leaders in the revitalization or redevelopment of their communities. Municipal staff should be contacted at the beginning of the community visioning and planning process to ensure that the vision or plan is consistent with the Master Plan, Zoning Code, Traditional Main Street Plans, and Historic District Ordinance. Grassroots community leaders should contact municipal officials for demographic data regarding their community.

Dating back to the urban renewal period, the city of Detroit has actively engaged grassroots community leaders and organizations in the planning and development process. The city of Detroit had many active Citizens District Councils, which provide recommendations to municipal official regarding development plans and projects in their community. City officials recommended developers meet with community leaders and organizations to discuss development plans and proposals that would directly impact specific neighborhoods. Citizen District Councils in Detroit were very active in working with municipal officials to create very comprehensive development plans for their specific neighborhoods and communities. They were an active and very engaged part of the civic engagement and development process at the local level.

Today, a best practice is to involve grassroots community leaders and stakeholders in the planning and programming decisions for their community. It is important that municipalities be very intentional regarding seeking the opinions and recommendations of grassroots community leaders and their community members in the planning and development process. In return, it’s also important that grassroots community leaders and members attend community meetings and public hearings to provide their input to the planning department, planning commission, historic district commission, and/or board of zoning appeals regarding development projects in their community. If no one from your community attends these meetings, then the voice of the developer and supporters of the project maybe the only voices municipal officials hear.

Grassroots community organizations and leaders have the passion to guide development occurring in their communities by making pro-active planning decisions versus reactionary planning decisions.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county.  Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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