“The best laid plans:” An ecological analysis of community participation, power, and urban neighborhood planning in practice
Vick, John Wesley
In recent decades, a renewed interest in the development of urban areas has resulted in tensions between various social, economic, and political interests that may be resolved through the process of urban planning, often in neighborhood-scale and community-based planning endeavors. As planning shifts to become more participatory and collaborative in practice, these processes must be closely examined to understand their value to, and impacts on, urban communities. This study focuses on issues of power and participation in a neighborhood revitalization planning process in a low-income urban neighborhood. The study’s theoretical framework includes theories of social and systemic power, community development and empowerment, and participatory planning. An ecological analysis approach using qualitative methods, including semi-structured interviews and ethnography, is employed to examine the interactions between participants, facilitators, and the broader socio-spatial and socio-political contexts in which the process was situated. The study findings reveal a planning process that was generally inclusive and produced a neighborhood plan that reflected the community’s needs and interests, but implementation of the plan’s recommendations proved difficult due to several contextual factors, including a substantial change in local government administration and a lack of leadership and cohesiveness within the community. The findings contribute to participatory planning and community power theory by providing an in-depth empirical study of the role of contextual factors and power in shaping the structure and outcomes of neighborhood plans. Additionally, the findings inform planning practice by identifying barriers to implementation, and strategies for effectively structuring neighborhood planning processes to engage community members in decision-making and build community capacity.