sustainable and equitable development: overview » inclusive development process

Meaningful public engagement is a critical element of any sustainable and equitable development project, and the benefits of including local residents, business owners, social service organizations, and other community groups early in the development process accrue to all involved. Input from existing neighborhood stakeholders can result in delivery of a better product that delivers tangible benefits for the entire community. Moreover, with local residents' buy-in, project sponsors will likely face less opposition to the development and, as a result, enjoy a smoother development process.

Engaging residents and other neighborhood stakeholders

To be meaningful, stakeholder engagement must be initiated early in the development process—well before major decisions have been made. In addition to mandatory notice and input requirements, successful efforts typically go well beyond the minimum number of public meetings and notifications to reach the broadest number of constituents. Varying meeting times and locations, providing simultaneous translation, and offering childcare and meals at meetings can help to improve turn-out and input from a diverse group of households. Developers may also benefit from working with community-based organizations and other local institutions to spread the word about stakeholder input events and design culturally-relevant sessions.

Formalizing outcomes in a Community Benefits Agreement

Erie-Ellington Homes
Photo courtesy of Urban Land Institute Development Case Studies

A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is a way for local residents and developers interested in gaining resident support for a new development to codify their mutual support for the development. CBAs are negotiated between community groups and developers on a project-by-project basis, and detail specific contributions the development is expected to offer for the community. Benefits may include an agreement to hire local workers or trainees at a fair wage; provide public amenities such as a child-care facility or community room on-site; or include a percentage of affordable housing units. In exchange, developers benefit from active community support of the project.

While typically negotiated between private developers and community groups, Baltimore's Red Line project provides an excellent illustration of a CBA created in partnership with state and local government to ensure positive community outcomes in a transit-oriented development. Local legislators formed a Red Line Citizens' Advisory Council consisting of local business owners, residents, service providers and workers along the planned route. This led to the creation of the Red Line Community Compact, which was signed by 70 agencies and organizations, including the Maryland Transit Administration and the City of Baltimore. While not legally binding, the Compact laid the groundwork for communication and established mutually agreed-upon goals for the project, including job creation and training, community revitalization, environmental protection and continued engagement of local residents. To date, progress has been made in each of these areas, and construction is set to begin in 2013.

For more information on drafting a CBA, click here.

Solutions in Action
Community Planning Process in Sacramento

In 2004, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) in California adopted the Sacramento Blueprint, a long-range plan for the region. The plan was developed through a comprehensive public engagement process that utilized scenario planning models to show residents what the future of the region would look like at maximum build out. Following the sprawling development patterns that shaped the region in the early 2000s and contributed to a significant increase in regional air pollution, the scenario planning model showed that continuing to develop without comprehensive and strategic growth management measures would not be sustainable, leading to worsening traffic and air pollution and rapidly diminishing open space. SACOG worked proactively with local residents to build support for the planning efforts, emphasizing compact, mixed-used development that would help reduce the region's aggregate amount of car usage (as measured by vehicle-miles traveled or VMT).

SACOG adopted a three-pronged approach to encourage public participation in the planning process:
  • Partner with constituency groups in the region to identify stakeholders and to establish recruitment teams to provide outreach to these stakeholders
  • Target intensive outreach efforts to reach disadvantaged groups that include minority and immigrant groups and disabled populations. This was accomplished by translating materials, providing transportation services for those in need, and engaging cultural and community centers.
  • Target neighborhoods and counties throughout the region with personalized and interactive workshops expected to resonate with participants.
At least in part because public input was integrated into every aspect of the Blueprint, the SACOG Board approved the Blueprint unanimously, including members within the business and environmental sectors—two groups often at odds with one another. This successful process has also led many municipalities to amend their comprehensive plans to align with the Blueprint and to work on updates to zoning codes to encourage compact, mixed-use development. Click here to read more about the SACOG Sacramento Blueprint

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Ensuring an inclusive development process
Public engagement processes that gather input from local stakeholders are a critical component of any sustainable and equitable development project to produce community-wide benefits.

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