June is Public Participation in Urban Planning Month

Although there may be no such thing as “Public Participation in Urban Planning Month” that I know of, I’ve decided to declare one on this website at least. That’s because I’ve decided to use June to publish a series of posts describing the research and recommendations contained in my final paper for graduate school, titled “Citizen Participation and the Internet in Urban Planning.” (Download the entire paper below)

As I have often written, the Internet provides urban planners with new tools to facilitate citizen participation in planning. Instead of studying and evaluating existing technical tools to facilitate participation (whether email lists, blogs, or private vendors systems), I decided to focus on the history and theory of participation to guide the development of a new model. How have urban planners engaged with the public in the past? What academic theory and professional values guide conventional (offline) participation processes? I then use my findings to describe both why and how the Internet should be used by urban planners.

This month I’ll post four major posts on these topics.

E-government, or “the use of information technology to support government operations, engage citizens, and provide government services” has been an area of intense interest. However, the use of the Internet to engage citizens in urban planning has been constrained. Part 1 will describe public participation in urban planning in the context of this movement. Internet participation in planning has been limited due to the availability of suitable technical tools and concerns about digital inequality, as well as a lack of a clear understanding of how technology can meet the needs of citizens and professionals. I describe how new Internet technologies and expanding Internet access addresses these concerns, and why urban planning requires a distinct technological approach from other e-government initiatives.

Involving the public in planning American cities has a long history. After completing the Chicago Plan of 1909, city leaders evangelized the plan through public lectures, coordinated sermons in churches, and a required textbook on city planning inserted in the public school curriculum. Part 2 will review the history of participation in American urban planning in order to describe an early, expansive approach to public involvement useful today. Before winning government powers over private actions, early planners communicated directly with citizens in order to build the political support necessary to achieve their plans. Model enabling acts adopted widely by many states as the framework for planning and zoning defined the legal context for official participation practices.

Although taking place largely outside the public eye, academic and professional planners have intensely debate the definition of and rational for public participation in planning in professional literature. Part 3 will describe this theoretical history, and the current “best practices” of today. These theoretical debates and professional practice of offline public participation can provide perspective and values for a new, Internet-centered model.

Although Internet technologies are new, the practice of engaging citizens in urban development processes is not. Collectively, the posts contain a critical re-evaluation of planning participation history and theory in order to propose ways Internet tools can be used to realize more inclusive, democratic, and equitable planning processes. Thus Part 4 will conclude the series with a description of a new model of the use of Internet technology for public participation.

In between these posts I’ll post several sidebars, taking a look at related topics in more detail. So far I’m thinking about discussing the hierarchy of Internet literacy, the problem of extreme voices, and a software company that’s flooded the D.C. metro with ads seeking government clients interested in civic engagement. I’ll also tackle other issues as they come up in correspondence or comments.

As always, all these posts will be open for comments, so I look forward to a lively month.

Part 1: Urban Planning and E-Government
Part 2: A Brief History of Public Participation in Urban Planning
Part 3: Participation Theory
The Internet as a Participation Tool

Download my master’s degree final paper, the basis of this series:
R. Goodspeed – Citizen Participation and the Internet in Urban Planning (PDF)

View the Citizen Participation and the Internet Index

Author: Rob Goodspeed


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  3. Interesting to read what you’ve said so far. Looking forward to reading the rest. One of my bones of contention, which I briefly touched upon in my blog, is how pricing of just belonging to planning groups seems exclusionary. For instance, it’s $185 to join the Congress for New Urbanism; that’s my utilities bills. It’s $375 to join Urban Land Institute; that’s my car payment (and yes, I live where public transit is not readily accessible … I’m 1 mile from the nearest intersection). You can’t expect much of the citizenry to join when they have to pay so much these days just to put food on the table. How about different (cheaper) levels of membership? Maybe a basic price to give us access to magazine, other publications and online data, without having to be involved in all the organizational politics of who runs the show, etc.

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