Putting Resident Voice at the Center of Community Planning & Development

January 30, 2017

Mile High Connects has always put the needs of residents at the forefront of our work. As we have embarked on an ambitious agenda to increase private, philanthropic, and public capital for important community investments, we have maintained a commitment to finding innovative strategies for putting residents’ needs at the center of community investment decisions.

We know that resident-driven planning is hard and sometimes messy. We also know that it is essential and that it cannot be done without committed community organizations that have deep connections in the communities in which they work. To better understand how our partners engage residents in planning and community development, late in 2016 we conducted a survey. The survey was distributed to nonprofit, for-profit, and government entities that work at a neighborhood or city/regional level. We were heartened by the tremendous commitment that we saw among the 24 organizations that completed the survey. And, we realize that there is a lot more work to be done to deepen our collective efforts to engage residents in community planning and development.

A few of the highlights from the survey:

  • A majority of respondents’ community engagement work focuses on affordable housing (79%), transit area stations (58%), and infrastructure (54%)
  • A majority of respondents’ engagement work includes community visioning (58%), comprehensive neighborhood planning (58%), leadership development (62%), and knowledge building and education around the development process (54%)
  • Only 16% of respondents indicated “working with developers” is a focus of their resident engagement, while a third (33%) indicated that education around financing for development is a priority

Respondents use a variety of tools to engage residents:

  • 91% community meetings
  • 74% workshops
  • 69% surveys

Respondents provide significant services in their community engagement efforts including:

  • 86% provide meals
  • 82% provide translation services
  • 78% make ADA accommodations
  • 58% provide child care
  • 47% provide transportation to/from meetings

The following geographies were most frequently cited as locations in which respondents engage residents:

  • Denver – Westwood (88%)
  • Other Denver City/County (87.5%)
  • Denver – Globeville/Elyria/Swansea (81%)
  • Denver – Federal Blvd. Corridor (73%)
  • Denver – Northeast Parkhill 73%
  • Adams County Unincorporated (64%)
  • Arapahoe County (56%)
  • Aurora (50%)
  • Westminster (44%)
  • Commerce City (40%)

And while we learned that many of the organizations dedicate more than 50% of their resources to engaging residents, there are still many barriers to engaging community, especially:

  • Capacity (staff, organizational and financial)
  • Taking time and effort to describe how planning and development issues are personally relevant, and important. Understanding and discussing what is important to community.
  • Making forums accessible to community members
  • Community members’ interest and time
  • Time, trust and language
  • Systemic racism, language and transportation barriers, processes that don’t allow time or resources for effective engagement
  • Lack of education on basic planning and development concepts

In the end, we learned that the organizations that work with community take this work seriously.  Their own words may provide the greatest insight:

“Community priorities are safety, affordability, cultural identity, family; these are not always the values that developers bring to the table and/or want to have conversations about. So then the community does not want to participate.”

“Planning and development are topics of privilege. Many community members are facing issues that demand their attention for today or tomorrow. Asking community members to plan and take time to talk about development should include answers to “so what”, “why should I care”, “does it matter”, “how will my thoughts and opinions be utilized”?

We look forward to working with our community partners including neighborhood organizations, nonprofit organizations, and developers to determine some of the best ways to engage residents in community planning and development processes and to ensure that their thoughts and opinions will in fact be valued and utilized.

– Katherine Pease, Capital Absorption Project Manager, Mile High Connects