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Community Design Primer

By Bradley Guy On behalf of the Environmental Leadership Program February, 2002

INTRODUCTION What is Community Design? Sanoff states that “… users have a particular expertise different than, but equally important to, that of the designer” (Sanoff, 1978). One expertise is the knowledge of a person who has experienced a community in a broad context over a number of years. Another form of expertise is the daily experience of the patterns of life in a specific place that would require the outside expert many months of observation in order to perceive. Sanoff’s characterization is at the heart of the value and meaning of community-based participatory development and design. The practice of participatory planning and architecture is often called “community design.” Community design has been defined as the design of collective environments such as open spaces, neighborhoods, and community centers, through a communal or participatory design process involving a broad range of participants (Hester, 1990). The “design” can extend from goal-setting exercises, “visions,” master plans, and conceptual plans, to the design and construction of building-related or landscape projects. Bell emphasizes that community design often has an agenda of involving user groups in design decisions about the built environment, and that there is a perceived and real conflict between quality of design, though lack of access to design services, for lower-income and non-profit building and community development activities (Bell, 2000). According to Curry, community design is a complex set of activities including architectural design and planning, education and training, community organizing, land and housing development activities, research and analysis, and political advocacy, typically on the behalf of lower-income and inner city areas seeking to improve economic and social conditions and fulfill physical development needs such as affordable housing (Rex Curry, personal conversation, September 2, 2000). Hence, “community design” is an expression related to planning and architecture in varying degrees, and as a participatory community development practice involving a wide range of groups and activities. What is Good Design? McDonough stated that “Design is the first signal of human intention …” (Wilson, et al., 1998). Intention is a determination to act in a certain way, therefore it involves making decisions (Guralnik, 1984). Design also has a high indeterminacy / technicality ratio, as Cuff calls it (Cuff, 1996). This high indeterminacy means that pros and cons of a design decision are not able to be proved as a solution to qualitative goals. There is no score that can be assigned to a design that indicates whether it is “good” design or not. In attempting to act in a facilitative manner, the community designer must be aware that their point of view of what constitutes good design does not necessarily agree with other participants. This personal bias can be difficult to overcome, and expanding the circle of input is one method used to diffuse strong opinions in order to arrive at “collective wisdom.” This strategy is only effective with participants who were willing to accept additional input and the validity of its source. A qualification of the design decision is to then ask if the process undertaken to arrive at the 2

decision was a comprehensive one, solicited feedback over a period of time, and engaged both planning and architectural experts, and community members. Gans suggests that there are two ways to look at the physical environment, as a potential environment, that is, the formal attributes, and an “effective” environment, meaning that it actually services the social, emotional and aesthetic needs of the users (Gans, 1968). In addition to creating “effective” environments, an inclusive process will have multiple possible benefits both from the process itself as well as the potential outcomes. Some of these benefits are listed below. • • • •

Participatory design will result in more environmentally and culturally appropriate design of public projects. The process of engaging citizens in meaningful participation, i.e., input is respected and actually used, will create “social capital,” increasing the capacity of citizens to participate and effect change in civic life over the long-term. The portions of a community that do not have access to professional design services and face difficulties in participating in decision-making about land development and building design, will be educated and empowered to become citizen planners on their own behalf. Community design is a mediation process between real and perceived conflicts of interest among stakeholders in a community and will result in greater tolerance, as well as opportunities for cultural or thematic expressions among diverse groups.

King uses the term “co-design” to describe the role of the planner and architect as a facilitator in a collaborative design processes. The proposed benefits to “co-design” are listed below. • • • • • • • •

Creating events that allow for social interaction and developing a “sense of community” through face-to-face interactions. Supplementing municipal planning department resources. Facilitating a wide variety of ideas to deal with complex issues. Reducing the typical barriers to participation, including formal hearings and settings. Prioritizing issues, with those most affected by political decision-making. Teaching laypersons how to think via graphics and 3-D visualization. Providing the opportunity to create strong proposals before formal presentations are made to municipal authorities. Acknowledging and publicly affirming community values (King, 1984).

Additional benefits of a participatory community development and design process are proposed below. • •

Making environmental, economic, and social problems in communities more visible, particularly for under-represented populations. Building bridges between sectors and interests in the community, including government, organizations and individuals, that will encourage resources from multiple parties to be brought to bear in addressing community-wide issues in an efficient manner. 3

• • • • • • • •

Strengthening the civic infrastructure within communities through a community building process involving collaboration, consensus-building, and sharing of information. Advancing environmental and social education among young people, utilizing a form of “service training” and practice-based education. Integrating citizen-based input into local governmental processes, decision-making and operations, including Comprehensive Plans, Local Codes, and Ordinances. Reducing “blight” through self-owned and culturally valued places, and providing public spaces and buildings which discourage and provide alternatives to crime, especially for young people. Creating universal housing and opportunities for multi-generational neighborhoods with a diversity of housing types, walkability, and opportunities for interaction. Discovering egalitarian public discourse and interpersonal interaction, using the physical realm of public spaces and buildings. Providing design services to create affordable “sustainable” housing, shelter for the homeless, lower-income housing, and planning for location-efficient and mixed-use development. Promoting participation and facilitation skills, and education about planning, design, and regulations and procedures that govern land development.

Why do We Need Community Design ? The fundamental urban and community development issues that form the rationale for this primer include: the need for proactive and participatory urban planning, architecture, and landscape design to support inner city neighborhood revitalization; the creation of projects that functionally, environmentally, and aesthetically meet community needs; education on community development and municipal planning processes in order to encourage participation in public planning processes; and increasing neighborhood political empowerment in lower income areas. Some of the possible causes of these needs are discussed below. When public planning and decision-making are dominated by the wealthy and political elite, social and economic injustice can result, by diverting resources from community environmental and social health needs, and from lower income and minority neighborhoods (APA, 2000). Some planning decisions may, as a consequence, improve the quality of life for one group at the expense of another where equal consideration, and open planning processes are not in use. The Florida Environmental Equity and Justice Commission (FEEJC) found that in Florida and nationally, minority and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by environmentally hazardous sites such as landfills, industrial facilities, and toxic waste sites, both by proximity to environmentally hazardous sites, and exposure to multiple sites (FEEJC, 1996). In the absence of access to knowledge and community development skills, access to decision makers, and access to financial capital, “social capital” is one form of alternative power that may be used in order to negotiate with other sources of power in the community 4

(Kinsley, 1998). Social capital refers to “the networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putnam, 1995). Neighborhood-based social capital can serve in conjunction with, and in lieu of, financial resources, and the traditional political power structure of a given community. However, social capital-building requires personal interactions between community members, which in turn requires a concerted effort. Public review of land development and architectural proposals is traditionally reactive rather than proactive. This is even more true for those who are not “wired” into the land development community and literally wired into the Internet or other sources of timely information. Architectural drawings and models are often used as pre-emptive marketing devices for presentations to investors, regulatory agencies, planning, and elected officials, with such a high level of detail that additional discussion by non-experts is discouraged. This investment in the initial marketing images of a project reduces the investment by even the most amenable developer that will be available for community participation in the design of the project. However, a community participatory process may achieve a more user-friendly design, less contentious public review, and reduce the risk of ultimate rejection at the end of the design and permitting process, so it is debatable when a land development project relies heavily on images over participatory process and content. The “art” of participatory processes and facilitation skills, are not normally taught in architecture schools. Both architecture and construction are group exercises; therefore, the architect and designer must learn how to work in a social sphere in if a building or planning project is to be fully realized as a form of social art (Cuff, 1996). Many State legislatures require Citizen Involvement Programs (CIP), thus encouraging citizens to participate in the local planning process, but because they are mandated with set minimum requirements, there is little incentive for innovation (Darkwing, 2000). Most public meetings are held in government chambers, do not have time-certain agendas, mail notices to a very narrow geographic area, do not provide child-care, and use numeric and official nomenclature that is difficult to interpret by laypersons. The public hearings themselves are formal and can be intimidating to those who are not used to speaking to a large audience. This form of consultative planning is not conducive to creating a meaningful dialogue between all parties in a land-use decision. Whether a sense of community enhances participation, or whether participation enhances a sense of community, has not been resolved. However, a study by the United Way found that empowerment was a critical component of meaningful participation and developing a sense of community (Thomas, 1997). Empowerment is linked to seeing that input into a public planning and development process is realized. If there is a perception or reality that citizen-based input is not taken into consideration by public and private community development and design entities, participation is perceived as irrelevant. There are often conflicts between decision-makers in the creation of the built environment. For example, professional developers, owners of large parcels of land, professional planning staff, and municipal authorities can come in conflict with organizations of neighborhood residents, and community and environmental advocacy 5

groups. These conflicts are rooted in perceived and real conflicts between the economic, social, and environmental benefits of one group (including the natural environment which has a voice given by environmental advocacy groups) versus the real or perceived losses to another group. Conflict resolution is often avoided in lieu of media campaigns and direct appeals to decision-makers. This results in further erosion of trust between different groups in a community. One of the major difficulties of a community development and design process is making information available to neighborhood residents, and the requirement to attend public hearings where decisions are made. One means to overcome these problems is “reaching-in,” whereby information is brought to neighborhood organizations’ meetings. Another means to facilitate participatory practices is to encourage neighborhood representatives to speak for the neighborhood group at formal public meetings. In this manner, information exchange is more efficient, while increasing the neighborhood’s status as a valid constituency in the political process. COMMUNITY DESIGNING Starting UP A major difficulty for starting a community development project is the start-up costs of an organization to manage it. This includes the basic costs of office space and equipment. Another difficulty is the acquisition of non-profit status for the purposes of receiving grants, tax-exempt status, and other legal protections. Having an umbrella non-profit group, nonprofit fiscal sponsor, or a non-profit university-based research center are means to begin a community-based program. Participation in citizen advisory boards or other non-profits provides an experiential education on urban planning and the politics of place, assists in the development of networks, and facilitates possible partnerships. It also helps build a sense of trust and the development of relationships that are necessary to any community-based work. Some of these relationships include with professional municipal planners and local elected officials. These relationships are readily used by the professional planner, land-use lawyer, or architect, to facilitate their projects, and should also be developed and used by the community designer to access information. The community designer can in turn use these relationships to act as a two-way gatekeeper between neighborhoods and governmental resources and decisionmaking. Information is Power Community-based design is about using an entrepreneurial spirit to work for the betterment of communities. Leveraging information and resources from one project to continue or expand additional work for the same project or new projects is a fundamental process.


Land use and building activities also require interactions with municipal authorities. Access to information and knowledge of procedures and regulations is the purview of professional architects and engineers, who as a matter of course establish relationships with government planning staff. Those not involved in professional architecture or planning activities have less opportunity to develop relationships with planning staff and elected officials. Community design is meant to redress the elitist relationships inherent in traditional planning and architecture, and the control of information. Methods to develop information include educational programs, interactive brainstorming and drawings, group field research, and communal building processes. By using open and public forums, a ll participants have an opportunity to interact, including public and private entities. The Internet and computers allow for on-line exchanges and interactive voting processes, exercises, and tutorials without requiring face-to-face interactions. Geographic information systems (GIS) and other computer-based tools such as visual simulations showing before and after representations are increasingly being used in community design programs. Have a Process and Goals A group exercise hosted by the Environmental Leadership Program helped to identify some of the common traits of successful social change movements, including for example, the civil rights movement of the 1960s (Hann-Baker, 2000). These traits provide examples for a community development and participatory planning project for any scale. The practices agreed upon by the exercise participants are noted below. • • • • • • • • • •

Have a process and goals embedded in the project at the beginning. Deliver short-term victories throughout the process. Have a strong component and ethic of involvement and inclusion, and create a role for every participant, no matter how small. Include education and training. Have a strong student and youth component. Speak to the visceral aspects of life, i.e. core values and human needs. Use popular culture/allegory/myth, i.e. use poetry, art, and stories to engage participants in a stimulating manner. Insure accountability through systems of evaluation. Speak to self-interests and appeal to human elements, not abstract issues of “sustainable development” or global warming, for instance. Have a moral component, and take the moral high ground.

Other attributes of community development and design projects include establishing a sense of mission, resolving conflict, and balancing expert and stakeholder input. A sense of mission can be one of the most difficult objectives. This can be caused by the differentiation of micro-interests even in one neighborhood, from the often long-term effort that is required to effect change at any scale of neighborhood revitalization. The variety of interrelated residents’ goals of youth education, reduction in crime, beautification, business 7

development, and basic infrastructure development, may be compatible with one another in formulating a mission for a neighborhood’s revitalization. Give it a Name Titles can be one way to help form a sense of mission. The titles can express both the goal of revitalization and the places themselves. One strategy is to pick a name that represents something suggestive for more than one constituency. An example is the prefix “eco,” which could be interpreted as either “economy” or “ecology”, depending upon the person reading it, thus possibly engaging both the economic and environmental communities. This is a simplistic example used for illustration. Perhaps the reader can come up with their own example for a particular project. Another example is coining the phrase “SoDo,” from the term “South Downtown.” This name has a probable associative power by mimicking the famous SoHo (South of Houston) in New York City, and the more recent LoDo (Lower Downtown) in Denver, Colorado, the site of a well-publicized inner-city revitalization effort. These associations provide a theme for an arts related, “cool” place. Resolve Conflict Community development and design projects typically follow a pattern of exploration and dialogue, which begins from a point of a “problem” and eventually arrives at a “solution.” Kaner describes the process as going from a closed condition of opinions and options through the “brainstorm” period of discussion and design, (divergent thinking) to a period of conflict and stasis caused by the open-ended-ness of multiple and conflicting views, to a period of resolution and coming to agreement (convergent thinking), to an eventual decision point (Figure 1) (Kaner, et al., 1996). A community development and design process does not necessarily follow a linear process because it is based on inclusion and democratic processes. A community design process is also more than the product which results. In the words of Shiffman, “community development is not simply rebuilding… it is… about social and economic justice” (PICCED, 2000). A component of this social and economic justice is the ability to be involved, make decisions, and be empowered by the political and economic elite.


New Topic

Convergence Conflict/Stasis


Time – Discussion / Design Figure 1 Model of Group Decision-making (Kaner, et al., 1996) 8

The model in Figure 1 provides a simplified version of the process of carrying out a community-based project. Conflict resolution will inevitably play an important role in the process. Figure 2 illustrates a simple model of the traditional relationship between the expert, the community, and the project in the context of a planning or community development. As illustrated in Figure 2, the flow of information for a project is often controlled by the planner or the architect. The community participant is not typically empowered to directly affect the outcomes of the project design. The expert is positioned between the community and the project outcomes, receiving input from the community, but solely responsible for the development of the project’s design.




Figure 2 Traditional Relationships Between the Community and the Project



Community Designer


Figure 3 The Community Designer and Community Relationship to Project As illustrated in Figure 3, a two-way relationship of community design is created between the project, the community designer, and the community itself. As illustrated, the community and expert both act directly in decision-making, with the expert community designer acting in two roles, one as a designer, and another as a facilitator of the community’s abilities to become “citizen planners,� gaining an understanding of the planning process and developing skills needed to act on their own behalf in the development and design of future public and community-serving programs and projects. Community Participants

Architecture Sociology Economic

Community Designer




Disciplines/Expertise Figure 4 Facilitative and Inter-Disciplinary Methodology of Community Design Figure 4 illustrates the interactions between the community of interest, the community designer, and various disciplines. The heavy line represents the community 10

“moving” through the project interacting with different disciplines and spheres of knowledge. As a project proceeds, different forms of expertise are introduced as needed. The community designer interacts with both the experts and participants in the project and in effect “introduces” expertise to the project and community members, while playing a coordinating role. The key difference between the community participatory development and design process and the traditional process is the acknowledgement of the role of the community member as a key decision-maker, in conjunction with the expert, rather than in complete deference to the expert. There are a considerable variety of means to carry out community-based participatory processes and projects. There are however, some best practices. A common practice that emerged from this research is the use of large face-to-face group meetings held for the purposes of developing ideas and presenting concepts. Group discussions and design sessions are often used to develop concepts in a span of one, two, or three consecutive days (Watson, 1996). Some common “best practices” of community development and design projects gleaned from the community development and design literature are described below. COMMUNITY DESIGN BEST PRACTICES Management Once the community development and design team has been established for a project, a core group or committee is often established to provide the most direct oversight for the project. This group is able to participate to a higher degree than the general audience for the project, and its members may have a special standing, such as the President of a neighborhood association (Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996). This core group might include for instance, neighborhood leaders, business owners in the project area, and municipal planning staff. This management structure is often accompanied by creating an on-site office or studio, the “storefront” office that is readily accessible to, or within, the project site (King, 1983; Kinsley, 1998). Increasing the convenience of information-sharing and interaction between the design team and the community extends to using meeting spaces within the project area for large group meetings (Watson, 1996). Outreach and Partnerships Outreach to both key “stakeholders” and under-represented “stakeholders,” in order to build partnerships for participation and eventual implementation, is a critical element in a community development and design project. A “stakeholder” is a person who is affected by, and can affect, decisions made in the design, and implementation of a project. In the case of planning a neighborhood park, for instance, this would include both an adjacent property owner, and a funding source or an elected official who has the authority and resources to implement the park. The project partnerships should include relationships between laypersons and experts, and involve well-respected members of the community (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000; Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996). The 11

International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) emphasizes insuring a balance of economic, environmental, and social service interests (ICLEI, 1996). Providing for interactions between technical experts and laypersons insures that local knowledge is not lost during the process (ICLEI, 1996). Data and Analysis Inventories and assessment are means to categorize the existing conditions of an area, utilizing demographic, land use, environmental and anecdotal information. As with any development or design project, baseline information is an essential requirement. This information can be gathered from documents, maps, surveys, interviews, and observations. Expanding fact-finding to discussions about community issues, needs, priorities, “sacred places,” will fill in gaps of knowledge remaining from an initial outreach process (Sanoff, 2000; Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996; Rauhe and Lyons, 2000). Sacred places are defined by Hester as places valued more highly by the community, with deep community associations that the community will wish to preserve (Hester, 1995). A baseline analysis of existing conditions is also a means to establish indicators or measurements of change for monitoring a project’s progress (ICLEI, 1996). Measurable elements of a community’s condition such as levels of pollution, crime rates, amount of land in certain uses, and numbers of people stating a specific community need, are conditions which may be affected by a community development and design project. The evaluation measures should be based on the specific conditions that the project expects to affect. In this manner, the evaluations are based on critical issues and priorities and motivate the process (ICLEI, 1996). Community review and approval of the baseline analysis and evaluation measures is cited by the ICLEI as a precursor to the conduct of the development and design program (ICLEI, 1996). Key results of this approval process can be the identification of assets and weaknesses in civic structure (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000). If no one is present at the beginning of a process, it can be a warning sign that the project is not perceived as a high priority. Gathering information and defining baseline issues are often inseparable and do not clearly follow a linear sequence (Rios, 2000). Data can be presented as an introduction to the community’s possible issues, but data gathering will also be most efficient if it is guided by issues that are defined by community discussions. This means that the data gathering does not happen once, but many times throughout the process. Publicity Media outreach and publicity are used to notice meetings, publicize results, expand participation, inform the general public, provide updates and reports, and create photo-ops to frame issues (Sanoff, 2000; Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Watson, 1996). Events such as a kick-off to a group design meeting, often called charrettes, and celebrations, can also be used to generate interest by the media (Kinsley, 1998; Okubo, 1997). Community outreach is an iterative process that should occur at the beginning of the project and at every opportunity to present findings and concepts (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000, Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996). 12

Field Trips Field trips are commonly noted in the community design literature as an important pre-cursor to community meetings and charrettes. Field trips introduce non-residents to site conditions and can be a bonding experience, allowing for informal discussions. They are also a means to re-introduce residents to their own neighborhoods as seen through the eyes of outsiders and experts (ICLEI, 1996; King, 1983; Watson, 1996; Sanoff, 2000). Education Educational components of a community design project are a means to outreach to the general public. Education campaigns are also a means to disseminate the project results (ICLEI, 1996). Presentations to special interest groups during and after a project is a means to “sell” the project outcomes (Kinsley, 1998). The American Institute of ArchitectsCommittee on the Environment emphasizes education on principles of “sustainable” development and using workshops as opportunities to train citizen-facilitators (Watson, 1996). A presentation of research findings often provides the introduction to the group brainstorming or visioning exercise. (Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996). Community Visioning and Charrettes The heart of a community design process are the group meetings and design charrettes (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000, Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996; Sanoff, 2000). Processes include the use of verbal and/or graphic facilitators, and brainstorming (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000, Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996; Sanoff, 2000). Food and other ice-breaking tools are often beneficial to holding successful group discussions, as are other mechanisms including name tags, group self-introductions, and note walls for additional comments (Kinsley, 1998). Subgroups are often used within the larger group. These subgroups can be either topic specific, or work in parallel on the visioning or goal-setting agenda as integrated teams (Watson, 1996). Working groups outside of large group meetings are a common means to divide the effort and concentrate individuals’ interests and knowledge (Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Rauhe and Lyons, 2000). Sanoff recommends creating concepts first with key stakeholders invited to a design charrette, and then seeking general public approval (Sanoff, 2000). Youth Involvement Youth involvement is less commonly mentioned in the community design literature. Youth participation is often limited to large community meetings or charrettes in the beginning of a project, and within those meetings, as a separate user group. The power of youths’ perspectives and as a user group not commonly considered, is noted by King (King, 1983; Watson, 1996; Sanoff, 2000).


Mission Statement A vision of the preferred outcome for a project and its creation of a mission statement is a common theme for community design and planning projects (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000, Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996; Sanoff, 2000). The mission statement is can be developed by the core management group or in the large groups meetings, but will be presented to all stakeholders in the project. The ICLEI recommends that a mission statement be developed by the core management organizing group (ICLEI, 1996). A form of mission statement can be created by a “catchy” name that seems dynamic and has historical or cultural associations such as SoHo in New York City, or the “something District.” Participants Database Initiating and maintaining databases of a community development and design project’s participants, including the media, is important for making announcements, creating newsletters, encouraging possible volunteer efforts, and fundraising (Kinsley, 1998). Sign-in sheets are one simple method to use in order to insure that participants are informed of subsequent meetings. Newsletters can be mailed using this mailing list and they can serve for future projects in the same area. A name database is also a measure of the success of outreach efforts, if in fact the da tabase grows over time by attracting new participants in a community development project. Goals and Objectives Goal and objectives are the follow-on to issues analysis and future visioning. Goals and objectives are also the basis for implementing a community design project vision. Evaluation measures, including indicators and interim reviews, allow for refinement and consensus as the project progresses (Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997). The first phase of a project can be to hold a series of community forums to develop goals, objectives, and indicators for the project. The questions used to develop these guidelines are sometimes based on the questions of: “what” the community wants, i.e. a goal; “how” the goal can be achieved, i.e. an objective; and what specific and measurable outcomes the community wishes to see. A simple measurable outcome can be the reduction in numbers of burglaries in a neighborhood. The objective to attain this, for example, might be to have more people signed onto a neighborhood watch program, and the original goal might have been to make a neighborhood “a safe place to live.”


Action Plans Action plans for carrying out community development and design projects include timelines, funding source identification, tasks, and roles and responsibilities of the core group members and stakeholders (ICLEI, 1996; Sanoff, 2000; Okubo, 1997; Kinsley, 1998). The action plan is an equivalent to a project schedule, but can include other elements such as fundraising, and media campaigns. Short-Term Projects Developing short-term projects is a means to keep interest and show interim results for a project that may be focused on long-term policy change (Kinsley, 1998). The presentation of a final report can be a setting to announce short-term projects for carrying out project objectives (Rios, 2000). If the project is a building or landscape development, short-term goals may be as simple as permit approvals. If the project is a large-scale neighborhood revitalization, short-term projects may include neighborhood festivals, signage, and beautification projects, such as clean-ups. These projects enhance a sense of progress and create legitimacy, for example, through the demonstration of neighborhood support, management competency, and resource capacity. Final Report Due to the dynamic and socio-political nature of neighborhood revitalization a final written report or conceptual plan may be the principal objective of a community development and design project. A final report is an opportunity for creating a sense of accomplishment by participants, and a legitimizing element when presented to policymakers. The final report is also a means to publicize and inaugurate the implementation phase of a project (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000; Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996). In the case of a building project for instance, a final report might consist of a community-based programming and feasibility analysis document, which in turn will be valuable information to be used in the implementation phase of the building design. The implementation phase in this case will consist of hiring an architect, soliciting tenants for the building, carrying out the design and final construction, and establishing a management structure for the operation of the building. Ratification Endorsements are cited by Kingsley as a means to disseminate and legitimize project results, whether it is a study, or a set of policy recommendations. This strategy is facilitated by inviting respected community leaders to the beginning of the process (Kinsley, 1998). The process of continuous dialogue and discussion can often produce a diffusion of information and awareness that is difficult to measure. The more a project is on the radar screen for elected officials, the more likely they are to think it is legitimate. This radar screen can often be a function of media coverage, which in turn is attracted to elected officials presence. Another simple form of ratification might even be the newspaper article that used the “catchy� phrase that is created for the project title. 15

Implementation and Monitoring Implementation plans are a key to community development and design projects, in order to provide continuity and insure that an initial planning effort is not wasted. Implementation tasks include assigning responsibilities, transforming planning project results into policies, fundraising, and creation of new organizations or new partnerships between organizations (Rauhe and Lyons, 2000; Kinsley, 1998; ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997; King, 1983; Watson, 1996). Consistent long-term monitoring uses indicators as a means to gauge the progress of the implementation plan (ICLEI, 1996; Okubo, 1997). Implementation often includes forming a non-profit organization to further the project goals over the long-term (Kinsley, 1998; Okubo, 1997). Models and Networks Kinsley states that information dissemination and modeling project processes and results for other communities is a beneficial means of partnering. Peer networks can help suggest funding sources and ideas from outside the immediate community (Kinsley, 1998). A major outcome question for any project is whether a network was expanded.


CONDITIONS FOR INVOLVEMENT What are the Conditions for a Legitimate Community Design ? A community design project requires “buy-in” from the user groups who will be most affected by the resulting policies and projects. The feasibility of change is dependent upon the willingness of participants to accept the proposed change as beneficial and participate in the process. The decision-makers, be it elected officials, planners, or architects and owners, have to be willing to accept input and the user groups have to be willing to provide it. If a neighborhood or community is unable to participate in a meaningful way a community development and design process may provide a result that does not have support. When a final policy decision or building is about to be finalized, the discussion will begin anew, instigated by those who are dissatisfied with the outcome or did not participate to begin with. The National Civic League uses a “Civic Index” to gauge the participatory social capital of a community, as noted in Figure 5. Participatory social capital is a measure of the social networks of the community, which in turn can indicate the amount of participation that can be expected in a community-based project. Involvement in a neighborhood planning process should therefore draw from the networks such as social clubs, churches, and civic organizations. • • • • • • • • • •

Citizen Participation Community Leadership Government Performance Volunteerism and Philanthropy Inter-group Relations Civic Education Community Information Sharing Capacity for Cooperation and Consensus Building Community Vision and Pride Inter-Community Cooperation Figure 5 Indicators of “Social Capital” (Bens, 1994)

Information Quality The quality and quantity of community involvement is aided by the quality of information exchange from those conducting the project to the stakeholders in the project. The quality of the information developed by the community design team will in turn be enhanced by the continuity of participation by stakeholders, and critique of the community design team’s interpretations of the stakeholders’ input. Consequently, understanding how to gather, analyze, present and receive information is critical to the success of projects relying on citizen involvement. Even the “best practices” of community development and design are dependent upon the development of personal relationships and a sense of trust between designers and community developers, and the stakeholders or “clients” of the project. Without this sense of trust, the participants in the process, particularly those who are used to being under-represented, will be less likely to reveal their honest opinions. Without this 17

information, the community design team will have little opportunity to develop realistic solutions. Relationship-building can be carried-out through a variety of means. Strategies include small efforts such attending neighborhood meetings, conducting small projects, such as community gardens, talking on a regular basis with neighborhood leaders, participation in neighborhood clean-ups, and extend to funding neighborhood improvement projects. There are a myriad of personal skills required of a community designer in order to encourage and maintain citizen involvement, and develop trust. These skills include facilitation skills, collaboration skills, the ability to use systematic problem-solving models, such as brainstorming and decision matrices, and the ability to manage conflict (Bens, 1994). Conflict management may be the most difficult skill as it requires different approaches depending upon the situation. A problem-solving approach to managing conflict is to find solutions to satisfy enough of the parties needs so that neither feels like they “lost.” It is necessary for the parties to be able articulate their real needs in order to find the fulfillment of those needs by mutually-agreed upon solutions (Watson, 1996). Personal needs in a community development and design project are determined by a wide range of variables and hence difficult to obtain from participants. The questions, “what do you like ?” and “what don’t you like ?”are very basic introductions into a discussion that will often provide additional information than information that is volunteered by the participants themselves. In May, 2000, a survey was conducted of neighborhood residents in an area of Gainesville, Florida that was pre-dominantly African American and lower income. Of 85 surveys mailed out, 28 were returned, a rate of 33%. The respondents were asked to rank their personal and neighborhood organization needs from 1 to 5. The responses were weighted by giving 5 points to a first rated need, 4 points for a second rated need, and so on. Each need was then scored by adding up all the points received using completed surveys (Table 1). Table 1 Mail-out Survey Issue or Need Neighborhood organizing and getting participation from your neighborhood Political strategies for getting your neighborhood goals met Working with City Hall and other departments and staff on your neighborhood’s behalf Raising funds to support your local neighborhood organization and activities Writing letters, articles, editorials, newsletters, flyers, grant proposals How to work with groups who have similar issues for greater impact Developing strategic plans for your organization including mission statement and goals. Small business skills and business planning Managing your neighborhood association Conflict resolution and working with a diversity of groups and opinions


Score 90 72 67 54 53 50 44 39 36 33

The top-ranked needs for this neighborhood were related to neighborhood participation, empowerment, advocacy and working with sources of power such as the municipal government. This survey validated the need for a participatory community development and design project in this area while also indicating that the conditions are difficult for carrying out a successful project. Sources of Information Without being able to know all relevant information and the opinion of every stakeholder it becomes necessary to sift through a myriad of sources of information in order to gain a sense of an urban area, both fact and perception. The inputs for a project can include a combination of fact and anecdote, expert and layperson, theories and principles, and practical experience. These inputs can be audio recorded, videotaped, written and collated in order to formulate cohesive summaries for the purposes of presentations to the participants and other stakeholders such as the elected officials. Information sources might include a range of information sources listed below. • • •

• • •

Fact – Census Data, economic or marketing studies, environmental data, maps and GISbased data including aerial photographs, historic Sanborn maps, property parcel maps, traffic counts, land uses, and zoning maps, and valid survey research Anecdote or Stories – community meetings, focus groups, interviews, and surveys, case studies and models from other communities Experts Opinion – civil engineers, architects, planners, landscape architects, environmental engineers, transportation engineers, elected officials, municipal planning staff, ecologists, professional facilitators, land development and housing development professionals, and artists Users Opinion – business owners, neighborhood residents, citizen-activists, children Theories – theories of planning and architecture, research on social development and environmental design, anthropology, urban sociology, “green” architecture, and community and economic development Practice – field-based research, historiographies, experiences of direct service providers, site specific conditions which were not measurable through Census or other common data systems

The most important forms of information exist at opposite extremes, i.e. “topdown” and “bottom-up.” At the “top-down” level are urban planning theories and information about planning policies and large-scale economic and demographic conditions. This information provides perspective and objectivity in order to see the systemic conditions and patterns in a geographic area. Studies of planning theories and models of community revitalization from other communities, provide the ability to project alternative or futurebased scenarios for the area. At the same time, site visits, walking tours, door-to-door surveys, daily trips through the area and spending time working on a physical project in the area provide immeasurable forms of information. Developing personal relations with neighborhood leaders, conducting interviews with residents, and visits to neighborhood meetings provide insight that would be 19

impossible to gather other than through the persons who experience an area in a daily and sometimes life-long manner. The practice of community development and design requires knowledge of many forms of planning and architecture, combined with facilitation and management skills. Architectural education and training inherently provide many of these skills but these skills do not necessary substitute for personal and long-term knowledge of local conditions. Conversely, the outside community developer and designer would appear to have an advantage in remaining objective and being able to propose recommendations that may be unpopular to one group or the other within the community. The strengths and weaknesses of the local versus outside planner, and the layperson versus the expert highlight the need for, in effect, “citizen planners,” who can balance their native knowledge, and personal investment in a place, with an ability and desire to engage in developing community plans and projects, practicing leadership within a neighborhood, and considering regional-scaled and principled long-term approaches to community development and design problems. These citizen planners would be effective in collaboration with outside experts, providing an informational and relational bridge to the community, and acting as the caretakers of the project to insure continuity and implementation. They would be able to act with individual expertise in the service of a successful community development and design project outcome. Key Issues to Remember • • •

• •

Funding is necessary for certain things but not all things. A principal use for funding is in paying for outside expertise that may not be available locally. A key to receiving funding is developing the baseline knowledge and understanding of the issues that a funding source will need to make a determination of need and possible achievement of worthwhile goals, from their perspective. A balance between native knowledge and “expert” theoretical knowledge will provide a balance between theory and practicality. It also provides a basis for relevance and potential for implementation, whereby residents and key stakeholders begin to inculcate ideas for neighborhood revitalization that they may not have thought of through a micro-view. A diversity of allies is important, such that there are always several directions to obtaining information or support. Resources are not always obvious and are not always monetary. A good newspaper article is valuable for credibility which in turn will open additional avenues of support. “Objective passion” best describes an appropriate frame of mind an open-ended and flexible process. Sincerity and patience will mean a lot to persons who live with the issues that one is learning about as an outsider. Focusing on key concerns and issues of the community provides both short and longterm possibilities for success. The most valuable activities will focus on building up the assets of the community that can sustain an effort to solve complex and systemic problems. 20

• • •

Community design is a process of self-education and understanding, and community education. Learning how to describe “sustainability” without using that word is invaluable to learning where people are and learning how to convey a message of sustainability in their own language. The community development process does not have an end, and can be geographically overwhelming when considering the inter-relations between parts of a whole community. It is helpful to remain focused on a discrete geographic area. Over time, relationships can be developed with neighborhood leaders whereby they will be allies for future projects. Earning trust by digging in community gardens, fixing up houses, etc. is invaluable for working in a non-professional or academic setting. Building, performing clean-ups, planting trees, and painting houses, generate credibility and inspire others. Students and a university connection are invaluable resources that will enable participation by a wide range of persons and allow the opportunity for them to expand their educational experience. Elected officials will participate where they can make most efficient use of their time and serve their interests. They receive requests on and on-going basis therefore will respond more favorably to responsible management and a sense that concrete results will occur through their involvement. Creating community through participatory planning and design is a paradigm shift that will not happen unless it is advocated. CONCLUSIONS

The art of participatory development and design is in the subjectivity of decisionmaking and evaluating outcomes. The social aspect of this work is that it is working with people of all kinds, from neighborhood residents to municipal planning staff to professional consultants. Because the built environment is a major part of the public realm, it is of significant social import. Every citizen has a stake in the community’s built environment, especially public artifacts, because of their scale and immediacy (King, 1983). When indigenous persons built using the constraints of tradition and the natural environment, this communitybased planning and building provided social and environmental benefits. Communal construction, for instance, reinforces cooperative behavior, and architecture that functions within the constraints of a regional bio-climate maintains cultural architectural traditions and place-based ecological knowledge. One of the possible roles for the community developer and designer is to act as a catalyst in the creation of planning and building efforts that would not have occurred via private development interests. Hester conducted a national survey to determine the values of community designers and their goals. He found that 59% stated user participation as a primary value, 41% stated equal access to environmental resources and decent affordable housing as a primary value, and 32% listed social contextualism as a primary value driving their work. He also found that 48% of the surveyees listed empowering citizens as a primary goal of their work, 42% listed 21

improving environments for the deprived, 32% listed design for user’s needs, and 26% listed environmental justice as primary goals of their work (Hester, 1990). Based on this survey, persons who chose to work in the field of community development and design do so because they believe that participatory planning and architecture practices has a unique value. Also based on Hester’s survey, many community designers recognize that human values of participation, community, learning, and developing self-worth are equally important to the physical artifacts themselves that are created from a participatory planning and architectural design program. Shared work through community design is a means to develop personal bonds and provide positive reinforcement for both the designer and the stakeholder. Human values, which will impact the choices made in shaping the built environment, should be, and can be, considered essential to the land and building development process.


BIBLIOGRAPHY American Planning Association, Policy Guide: Planning for Sustainability. Washington, DC: APA Board of Directors, April 17, 2000. Bachmuth, P., Doxsey, L., Capital Improvement Project Evaluation: A How-to-Manual. Austin, TX: City of Austin Planning, Environment, and Conservation Services Department, 1996. Bell, Bryan, Common Threads, Proceedings of the Structures for Inclusion Conference. Design Corps, Inc., Princeton, NJ, October 7-8, 2000. Bens, Charles K., “Effective Citizen Involvement: How to Make It Happen.� National Civic Review; 83(1), 32-38, 1994. Sustainable Seattle, Inc., Sustainable Seattle: Indicators of Sustainable Community. Seattle: 1998. Carpenter, W. J., Learning by Building: Design and Construction in Architectural Practice. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1997. Cary, John M., The ACSA Sourcebook of Community Design Programs at Schools of Architecture in North America. Washington, DC: Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, 2000. City of Austin, Sustainability Evaluation of Capital Improvement Projects Web site,, visited October, 2000. City of Gainesville, Florida Master Site File for nomination of the Old Gainesville Depot building to the National Register of Historic Places. Gainesville, FL, 1996. City of Gainesville, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Depot Avenue, Gainesville, FL. New York: Sanborn Mapping Company of New York, 1922. Cuff, D., Architecture: The Story of Practice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1996, pp.13. Curry, R., Association for Community Design Web site,, visited October, 2000. Curry, R., Association for Community Design, The New York Conference Report, Brooklyn, NY: Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, May 8, 1997. Darkwing Web site, Chapter 2 Goal 1 and Its Six Components, visited October, 2000. 23

Design Coalition, Inc. Web site, visited October, 2000. Florida Environmental Equity and Justice Commission, Florida Environmental Equity and Justice Commission Final Report. Environmental Sciences Institute, Tallahassee, FL: Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, 1996. Gainesville Housing Authority, Application to US HUD Youthbuild Program, “Youthbuild Gainesville.” Gainesville, FL, July, 1998. Gans, H. J., People and Plans: Essays on Urban Problems and Solutions. New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc., 1968. Guralnik, D.B., ed, Webster’s New World Dictionary, New York, NY: Warner Books, 1984. Guy, B., “Old Gainesville Depot Development Project,” Final Report to the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation. Gainesville, FL: Center for Construction and Environment, July, 2000. Guy, B. and Hanrahan, P., Application to the US Environmental Protection Agency Sustainable Development Challenge Grant Program, “Depot Avenue Eco-Development Project.” Gainesville, FL: Center for Construction and Environment, August, 1998. Hann-Baker, D. Facilitated Session for Environmental Leadership Retreat, (Unpublished Notes), West Cornwall, CT, August 30, 2000. Hester, R.T., Community Design Primer. Mendocino, CA: Ridge Times Press, 1990. Hester, R.T., “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sustainable Happiness.” Places, 9, pp. 4-17, 1995. International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, The Local Agenda 21 Planning Guide. Toronto, Canada: ICLEI, 1996. Kaner, S., Lind, L., Toldi, C., Fisk, S., Berger, D., Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision-Making. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 1996. King, Stanley, Co-Design: A Process of Design Participation. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983 Kinsley, M. K., Economic Renewal Guide: A Collaborative Process for Sustainable Community Development. Snowmass, CO: Rocky Mountain Institute, 1998 Okubo, D., The Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook. Denver, CO: National Civic League Press, 1997.


Porter, D., Platt, R.H., Leinburger, C., Blakely, E.J., Maxman, S., The Practice of Sustainable Development. Washington, DC: The Urban Land Institute, 2000. Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development Web site, visited October, 2000. The President’s Council on Sustainable Development, Sustainable Communities Task Force Report. Washington, DC: President’s Council on Sustainable Development, 1996. Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” Journal of Democracy 6(1), 65-78, 1995, Web site, Rauhe, W. J. and Lyons, T.S., “Towards Creating a Model for Empowering Citizens to Sustain Community Planning and Development Efforts: the Case of Menominee, MI,” DesignNet Journal Web site,, visited October, 2000. Rios, M., Report to Center for Construction and Environment on Depot Avenue EcoDevelopment Project, Oakland, CA: Urban Ecology, Inc., January, 2000. Rios, M., “Common Threads,” Proceedings of the Structures for Inclusion Conference, Princeton, NJ. Gettysburg, PA: Design Corps, Inc., October 7-8, 2000. Rusk, D., Healthy City, Healthy Region: Assessment and Recommendations on Regional Planning and Housing Policy for the City of Gainesville and Alachua County. Gainesville, FL, 1996. Sachs, A., Eco-Justice: Linking Human Rights and the Environment. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute, 1995. Sanoff, H., Designing With Community Participation. Stroudsberg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, Inc., 1978, pp.1. Sanoff, H., Community Participation Methods in Design and Planning. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000 Thomas, J. A., “Citizen Participation - Lessons From a Local United Way Planning Process,” Journal of the American Planning Association, 63(3), 345-356, 1997. US Census Bureau, Census 1990 Web site,, visited October, 2000. US Environmental Protection Agency, Brownfields Program Web site,, visited October, 2000. Washington, R. “City Stories: Depot Divide,” Gainesville (FL) Sun, May 5, 2000. 25

Watson, D., Environmental Design Charrette Workbook. Washington, DC: The American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment, 1996. Wilson, A., Uncapher, J.L., McManigal, L., Lovins, L.H., Cureton, M., Browning, W.D., Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate. New York, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998., preface. World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1987.


Bradley Community Design Primer  

Community design