January 29, 2024
Community Engagement in the Planning Process
An important component of any project is community engagement—it’s required for some, ideal for others, and in some cases, it’s the entire project. Community engagement provides a space for the goals, needs, and desires of a community to be heard so the project becomes a place people enjoy and appreciate visiting. Actively participating in the community engagement process benefits the area you live in by providing your insights as a resident.
At JBPro, we believe that the locals’ engagement in a community plan is key to building beautiful designs that fit within a space. That’s why we actively support and lead community engagement initiatives throughout the state of Florida—ensuring that those projects match the vision and needs the community has for their town.
What Is Community Engagement?
If you’re not active in your local government or don’t work within the civil engineering world, the idea of community engagement may be a new concept for you. To understand what community engagement can do for you and your local area, we must first define and understand what it is.
At its core, community engagement allows people within a community to envision what they want their area to be—residents providing insight into what’s important to them and how they see their area’s identity.
Several topics of discussion can better define the outcomes of community planning through active engagement. For example, the community planner leading the engagement initiative would look for local perspectives on what is desired for the following:
- Community activities
- Design features
- Public spaces and assets
- Private resources
- Look and feel of the design
- A space’s character
With all of Florida’s natural resources and biodiverse landscapes, a common topic of debate for the community to weigh in on is the balance between natural and man-made environments within an area. A community planner may also bring up the topic of how interconnected residential neighborhoods, economic centers, schools, parks, and streetscapes should be. For example, does the community want a more walkable, urban design or would they prefer a more spread-out, rural configuration?
All of these topics seek to answer the question of how an area of the community comes across—the community planner wants to gather a deep understanding of a community so a project can truly reflect the local identity and character of its area. Allowing direct input from the community provides this understanding and lays a blueprint of the vision, goals, and priorities of the people who reside there.
What Does Community Engagement Look Like?
Community engagement can take several different forms and will differ depending on who is leading the initiative and what the project is focused on. For example, a project for a school may have a more targeted audience of parents, guardians, teachers, and students who are zoned for that specific school. Or a project that impacts the whole of a community may have a community engagement initiative that targets anyone within the local region.
Ultimately, the goal of any community engagement effort is to figure out what the impacted population wants for a certain area or space. It asks, “When you are in this area, what do you want it to be about? How do you want to feel when you’re here?”
There are multiple approaches to answering these questions. It can be as simple as a school meeting or town hall discussion. Maybe it’s a workshop hosted by the community planner for a new neighborhood development. Online surveys or social media campaigns are more modern ways to increase community engagement and awareness about an upcoming project.
In a recent project we partnered on, the City of Palm Coast elected to have an online hub to share information, gather community input, and promote related events.
There are creative ways to engage the community as well! For example, at JBPro, while we were community planning for a downtown area, we asked our attendees to answer the question, “What do you want out of your downtown?” Their answers were written down on sticky notes and placed on a wall. By the end of our initiative, we had a collage of sticky notes with the hopes, needs, and desires of the community for their new downtown area! By the end of the engagement, we had a visual representation of the people’s expectations to use as a blueprint as we moved forward to development.
What Projects Can the Community Get Involved In?
There is nearly no limit to what projects can involve a community plan. Any public space or private development project happening in your community is something you can partake in! Some examples of your options for community involvement include:
- The development of a master plan, neighborhood development, or community center: Here the question is asked, “Who do we want to be as a community?” The master plan specifically addresses issues of transportation, economic development, school placement and design, public park development, and more.
- The development or revision of a comprehensive plan or capital improvement plan: A “comp plan” serves as the legal authority for guiding community development through a future use map.
If you have a student in the school system, you may want to find engagement opportunities for this as comprehensive plans can impact school concurrency. If you’re not impacted by the school system, having a say in how the future of your town’s land will be used is beneficial if you plan to stay there long-term.
- Streetscape design: This will impact both transportation and the walkability of an area. Discussions are often focused on what’s best for the health of the community and what serves the community’s transportation needs best.
- Environmental protection: If you care about environmental concerns, finding community planning initiatives around land conservation and protection is a great way to make an impact on your local ecosystem.
- Downtown development: Downtown is often the heart of a community and provides a space for activities and socialization. Understanding what the community values is vital to creating a downtown where the people want to be.
- School development and rezoning: When developing a community plan for a school-related project, the school district will want to hear the opinions of students, parents and guardians, and teachers before addressing these concerns. These hearings can address issues such as the need for a new school, a current facility’s need for a new building, or even how to rebrand a school’s reputation within the community.
- Public park or community square: Parks and squares are the lifeblood of socialization for a community. They provide a public space to engage with events and activities while also enjoying their area. Before a local government decides to develop a new public park or community square, they’ll want to make sure that it’ll be designed so that their residents will use it.
- Specific site planning: Not all community engagement efforts are for public spaces or buildings. Private projects may also want to engage the community for input. For example, a new neighborhood may host a workshop to get opinions for their design before beginning construction.
Why Is Community Engagement Important?
Why does community engagement matter so much? We’ve already covered that it allows for a project to meet the needs and wants of a community, but what makes it so important that here at JBPro we actively spend our time to encourage it? The reason community engagement is so important is that it allows for the creation of a vision statement that establishes the community’s needs, concerns, and demands and determines the community’s priorities. In other words, it makes the community’s vision the first step in assessment and prioritization during a planning process—not just an afterthought.
While the community can be involved in both the public and private sectors, community engagement is the best way to ensure the people’s goals, wants, and needs speak directly into the policies and procedures made about their own community. By going to a community planning session about a comprehensive plan, public park, or new school, you are having your voice heard by your local government and making what matters to you influence your community’s legal approaches to development.
Join JBPro in Our Community Planning Initiatives
At JBPro, we have a diverse portfolio of completed projects—from parks to residential areas to town centers. In all of them, our goal was to create something that would benefit the local community and develop a space the residents wanted or needed.
We understand the importance of community input on a project, and we want to encourage you to take your town’s development into your own hands by participating in community engagement initiatives. We ourselves have led several community engagement initiatives in Florida. If we have one near you and your community, we hope to see you there!