Community Planning: About Community planning
  • Introduction
  • overview
  • inspiration
  • benefits
  • getting started

maps and hands

Hands on planning
Woking Community Planning Weekend, 2007, John Thompson & Partners.

"If you want to know how the shoe fits, ask the person who is wearing it, not the one who made it."

All over the world there is increasing demand from all sides for more local involvement in the planning and management of the environment. It is widely recognised that this is the only way that people will get the surroundings they want. And it is now seen as the best way of ensuring that communities become safer, stronger, wealthier and more sustainable.

But how should it be done? How can local people – wherever they live – best involve themselves in the complexities of architecture, planning and urban design? How can professionals best build on local knowledge and resources?

Over the past few decades, a wide range of methods has been pioneered in different countries. They include new ways of people interacting, new types of event, new types of organisation, new services and new support frameworks.

This website provides an overview of these new methods of community planning. It is aimed at everyone concerned with the built environment. Jargon is avoided and material is presented in a universally applicable, how-to-do-it style. Whether you are a resident wanting to improve the place where you live, a policy maker interested in improving general practice, or a development professional working on a specific project, you should quickly be able to find what you need.

The methods described here can each be effective in their own right. But it is when they are combined together creatively that community planning becomes a truly powerful force for positive and sustainable change. Just a few of the many possibilities are featured in the scenarios section towards the end of the website.

In years to come it is possible to imagine that every human settlement will have its own architecture centre and neighbourhood planning offices; that all development professionals will be equipped to organise ideas competitions and planning weekends; that everyone will have access to planning aid and feasibility funds; that all architecture schools will have urban design studios helping surrounding communities; and that everyone will be familiar with design workshops, mapping, participatory editing, interactive displays and other methods described here.

When that happens, there will be more chance of being able to create and maintain built environments that satisfy both individual and community needs, and that are enjoyable to live and work in.

In the meantime the art of community planning is evolving rapidly. Methods continue to be refined and new ones invented. There is a growing network of experienced practitioners. This website will hopefully help with the evolution of community planning by allowing people to benefit from the experience gained so far and by facilitating international exchange of good practice.

"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society, but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not take it from them, but to inform their discretion."
Thomas Jefferson, architect and President of the United States, 1820 Letter to William Charles Jarvis
"When dwellers control the major decisions and are free to make their own contribution to the design, construction or management of their housing, both the process and the environment produced stimulate individual and social well-being."
John F C Turner, Freedom to Build, 1972
"Public participation should be an indispensable element in human settlements, especially in planning strategies and in their formulation, implementation and management; it should influence all levels of government in the decision-making process to further the political and economic growth of human settlements."
Delegate communiqué, United Nations Habitat 1 conference, Vancouver, 1976
"The professionals need to consult the users of their buildings more closely. The inhabitants have the local knowledge: they must not be despised. People are not there to be planned for; they are to be worked with… There must be one golden rule ­ we all need to be involved together ­ planning and architecture are much too important to be left to the professionals."
HRH The Prince of Wales, A Vision of Britain, 1989
"Community designers draw out of people their heroic insights and find ways to implement them."
Richard Meier, Architect, Community Design Primer, 1990
"When people feel they 'belong' to a neighbourhood which is theirs through their own efforts, then it will become a place which is worth struggling to retain and develop. People will safeguard what they have helped to create."
Lord Scarman and Tony Gibson, The Guardian, 11 December 1991
"Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information... and the opportunity to participate in decision making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available."
United Nations Rio Declaration, Principle 10, 1992
"Community planning is a vehicle through which we can hope to re-engage people with their community and with society."
Charmian Marshall, Campaign Director, Urban Villages Forum, 1993
"Community involvement has been shown to make a positive contribution to planning and development processes. At its best, community involvement can enable: processes to be speeded up; resources to be used more effectively; product quality and feelings of local ownership to improve; added value to emerge; confidence and skills to increase ­ for all; conflicts to be more readily resolved."
Department of the Environment England, Summary of planning research programme, 1994
"Design participation is the best education a community can get. The people here have been involved down to the last nail and screw. People round here know more about architecture than anywhere else in the country! It¹s helped us to get what we want and to get it right."
Tony McGann, Chair, Eldonian Community-based Housing Association, Liverpool,
Building homes people want, 1994
"Putting cities back on the political agenda is now fundamental. What¹s needed is greater emphasis on citizens¹ participation in city design and planning. We must put communal objectives centre-stage."
Sir Richard Rogers, Architect, Reith Lecture, 1995
"This is a good time to be alive as a development professional. For we seem to be in the middle of a quiet but hugely exciting revolution in learning and action."
Robert Chambers, Whose Reality counts?, 1997
"Experience shows that success depends on communities themselves having the power and taking the responsibility to make things better. A new approach is long overdue. It has to be comprehensive, long-term and founded on what works."
Tony Blair, Prime Minister, Bringing Britain Together; a national strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, 1998
"Community planning gave us the opportunity to work alongside the powers that be, have our say and feel, for the first time, that we were really being listened to. Residents now feel much more connected with decision-making and things are really beginning to improve around here."
Sydoney Massop, Resident, South Acton Estate, Ealing, UK, 1999
"Community participation lies right at the heart of sustainable development. Sustainable communities will take different forms from place to place, but one thing that none of them will be able to do without is a broad and deep level of participation."
Action Towards Local Sustainability, website introduction, 1999

suggestion for some inspiration

The site editor will contact you to let you know whether the material can be used, what further information is needed.

When people are involved in shaping their local surroundings, the benefits can include:
  1. Additional Resources
    Governments rarely have sufficient means to solve all the problems in an area. Local people can bring additional resources which are often essential if their needs are to be met and dreams fulfilled.
  2. Better Decisions
    Local people are invariably the best source of knowledge and wisdom about their surroundings. Better decision-making results if this is harnessed.
  3. Building community
    The process of working together and achieving things together creates a sense of community.
  4. Compliance with legislation
    Community involvement is often, and increasingly, a statutory requirement.
  5. Democratic credibility
    Community involvement in planning accords with people¹s right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. It is an important part of the trend towards democratisation of all aspects of society.
  6. Easier fundraising
    Many grant-making organisations prefer, or even require, community
    involvement to have occurred before handing out financial assistance.
  7. Empowerment
    Involvement builds local people¹s confidence, capabilities, skills and ability to co-operate. This enables them to tackle other challenges, both individually and collectively
  8. More appropriate results
    Design solutions are more likely to be in tune with what is needed and wanted. Involvement allows proposals to be tested and refined before adoption, resulting in better use of resources.
  9. Professional education
    Working closely with local people helps professionals gain a greater insight into the communities they seek to serve. So they work more effectively and produce better results.
  10. Responsive environment
    The environment can more easily be constantly tuned and refined to cater for people¹s changing requirements.
  11. Satisfying public demand
    People want to be involved in shaping their environment and mostly seem to enjoy it.
  12. Speedier development
    People gain a better understanding of the options realistically available and are likely to start thinking positively rather than negatively. Time-wasting conflicts can often be avoided.
  13. Sustainability
    People feel more attached to an environment they have helped create. They will therefore manage and maintain it better, reducing the likelihood of vandalism, neglect and subsequent need for costly replacement.
suggest a benefit

The site editor will contact you to let you know whether the material can be used, what further information is needed.

How do you get started with community planning? How do you decide which methods to use, and when? How do you design an overall strategy geared to your own circumstances?

The approach adopted will be different for every community. There is rarely a quick fix or blueprint. Each place needs to carefully devise its own community planning strategy to suit local conditions and needs.

But there are principles, methods and scenarios which appear to be universally relevant, and can be drawn on for inspiration and guidance. These are set out on this website. They are based on pioneering projects and experience from many countries over the past few decades.

It is unlikely that you would be able to draw up a complete strategy at the outset. Flexibility is important, in any case, to be able to respond to new circumstances and opportunities. But planning a provisional overall strategy is a useful discipline so that everyone understands the context in which the chosen methods are being used and the purpose of each stage.

First, define the goal or purpose. Then devise a strategy to achieve it. Try doing some or all of the following: Once you have done this you should be in a position to assess the options available and resources required. You may be working to a fixed budget with known contributors, in which case your options are limited. More likely, securing financial and other support will be part of the process. Raising funding may not be easy, but organisations of all kinds are increasingly prepared to contribute as they begin to see how community planning activity can benefit the communities they are located in, or are responsible for. And there is a great deal that can be achieved by obtaining 'support in kind'; help and assistance in non-financial terms.

This page is sponsored by
Nick Wates Associates.

small is beautiful
Last updated on: 05 December 2011