Affordable Housing, Announcements, Community Development

Community Engagement and the Future of Our Towns


If we believe in government by and for the people, it is common sense that town governments consult residents before making significant planning, zoning or development decisions.

Some municipal officials offer up development proposals as if they were take-it-or-leave-it decisions, but more municipalities across CT and New England are finding that community engagement – proactively, thoughtfully and creatively asking their residents for their attention and ideas – pays off big time.

Conversely, they are learning it’s better to have a front-end discussion rather than wind up screaming at a raucous public hearing or, worse, spending thousands on lawyers and consultants to defend an ill-considered decision in court.

That was evident in January at UMass/Amherst when three federal agencies – HUD, EPA and DOT – along with the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities brought together experts and advocates to discuss the best ways to merge affordable housing creation, transit and liveable, sustainable and environmentally sound practices.

The Partnership for Strong Communities talked about community engagement strategies it promotes, including its new video about five Connecticut communities – Hamden, Old Saybrook, Colchester, Bristol and Simsbury – that have used an array of community engagement methods – charrettes, town meetings, websites and crowd-sourcing among them – to harvest ideas and achieve buy-in for their development plans.

But there were other great ideas, from Burlington, Vermont’s Downtown and Waterfront Plan to the Knowledge Corridor’s  consumer-friendly, participation-inviting website created by the Capital Region Council of Governments and the Springfield-area Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to further its Sustainable Communities Initiative planning activities to the wide-ranging efforts of Fitchburg, Massachusetts Mayor Lisa A. Wong to engage her community in city betterment efforts.

A growing number of organizations are finding that they need a wider array of housing options to meet the needs of empty-nesters, young professionals and families, and workers in a region that, despite a falloff in demand, has seen rental and purchase prices remain very high.

The Partnership will host an IForum -- Our Incredible Shrinking Grand Lists – And How Towns Can Fatten Them Up! – on March 8. You can learn more here.

David Fink is the Policy and Communications Director of Partnership for Strong Communities

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