Neighborhood planning leads to place

Planning at the neighborhood level leads to better communities and better placemaking, also forms building blocks for local government’s plans.

Neighborhood planning helps residents identify issues and concerns within their community and create action plans to address these issues. It provides an opportunity for citizens to build a community within their neighborhoods by taking an active role in the communication, planning, and implementation.

Neighborhood planning involves citizens, local stakeholders, municipal departments, community organizations, businesses, and institutions working together to address placemaking and other issues. The goal of neighborhood planning is to promote stronger, healthier communities by encouraging citizens to solve problems together. A successful neighborhood plan:

  • Represents all of the groups within the community
  • Identifies neighborhood strengths and assets
  • Identifies neighborhood needs and concerns
  • Establishes goals for improving the neighborhood
  • Provides recommendations for reaching those goals
  • Implements placemaking activities

Neighborhood plans allow people to work together in improving their community. Residents within the neighborhood develop plans with assistance from community staff. Neighborhood organizations are encouraged to identify the needs and goals of the neighborhood and recommend strategies to achieve the goals. Goals may be as simple as finding alternative methods to address code violations or as complex as a recommendation for design guidelines for a community project. The results of neighborhood plans will become a permanent part of the local government’s planning and development process.

Local governments can review neighborhood plans and use them to provide direction for programs and projects that affect the neighborhood. These plans also function as a building block for local government strategic action plans.  

This allows neighborhoods to document a clear vision of their own needs and build a consensus among the residents and business owners in the neighborhood. These plans also inform businesses of what services are needed and what development will be encouraged.  Plans can include measures such as developing a  newsletter, holding annual clean-ups, installing traffic calming measures, developing community gardens, establishing a neighborhood watch program, or developing a neighborhood-welcoming team.  These are all placemaking activities that can improve the quality of a neighborhood.

 Neighborhoods are encouraged to organize into strategic focus areas that include a wide range of needs and opportunities. This includes places for people to live, work, shop, relax and come together at public places. Some neighborhoods are large and offer a wonderful opportunity to work on a neighborhood plan. Smaller neighborhoods are encouraged to collaborate with adjacent areas and create a plan for the combined area. This type of interaction provides the local government boards and commissions with a greater understanding of the goals that are wanted for themselves and molds and shapes local policies.

 Engaged citizens help determine the neighborhood’s planning area boundaries. The planning area should reflect common interests, geographic features, and shared services. Typically neighborhoods have defined edges delineated by a transportation corridor; man-made, cultural, natural barrier or natural area.  The key to finding the most effective size for a planning area is to make sure it is:

  • Large enough to present opportunities and provoke new ideas
  • Small enough so that all meetings are accessible by walking
  • Allows for the group to work together effectively
  • Allows the group evolve based on their needs

More information on the structure of a neighborhood is available in the article Rebuilding the structure in your neighborhood.

The people that come together to work on neighborhood planning, or a smaller subset of those people can become a “neighborhood group” that serves as long-term representation for residents within the local government. This group is comprised of people who live in the neighborhood, work on common problems, keep abreast of developments that can affect neighborhoods and are available to voice neighborhood concerns if issues arise. Michigan State University Extension staff  is available to provide assistance to neighborhood groups to facilitate group meetings, provide suggestions on planning framework, offer technical assistance including research, mapping, and design. MSU Extensions role is to coach residents through the process of goal development and to facilitate consensus building.  Done correctly, neighborhood plans are an essential tool for creating place that is the building block of a community.

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