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Urban Scale

Process

Article

Community engagement is a continuous effort that can ensure an effective planning process and lead to a successfully implemented plan through community ownership and relevance.  Much like a successful business responds to the needs and ideas of its existing and potential customers, good local government must continuously interact with and respond to its customers – residents, businesses, organizations, and visitors.

An effective community engagement plan begins with an internal situational or contextual assessment of the issues. The assessment should answer the following questions:

  • What does the community already know about the issue(s)? Is engagement needed for additional feedback or to garner wider acceptance of public choices?
  • What stakeholder groups are most impacted or influenced by the issue? What positions does each stakeholder group have regarding the issue(s)? Are the positions barriers or facilitators to the planning process?
  • What community leaders are organizers, conveners, and contributors to the process?
  • To what degree will public preferences influence the outcomes of the planning process?

From the situational assessment, the next step is to establish participation goals by stakeholder group, if necessary. As stated by the International Association for Public Participation in its spectrum of participation, there are five possible goals:

  • INFORM  – Provide the public with balanced and objective information
  • CONSULT – Obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions
  • INVOLVE – Ensure that public concerns and desires are consistently considered and understood
  • COLLABORATE – Partner with the public in each aspect of the decision including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution
  • EMPOWER – Place final decision-making in the hands of the public

These goals, which are not mutually exclusive, determine the possible techniques used during the public engagement process. For example, if the goal is to inform, then the entity may chose fact sheets, web sites, open houses and/or organizational briefings; and if the goal is to consult and inform, the entity may also include focus groups, surveys and public meetings comment forms.

To reach out and facilitate dialogue takes the right tools, the right forums, and the right sequence of events.  Techniques vary by audience and scope of a project, but often the more media, the better.  Today, many community members are on-line, but never forget the digital divide.  Thus, a range of publications, including the printed and digital, helps reach all segments of society.  Additionally, where a public event is held and its format will influence the accessibility and comfort level for participation for an intended audience.  Rather than always holding meetings at a formal civic location, think about actually facilitating outreach and meeting with various audiences in settings and events most familiar to them.  Finally, the order of events will make the difference between active engagement and superficial patronization.  The most effective engagement has an interdependent cycle of events directly contributing to plan or project development.

In addition to providing feedback to the governmental entity and the professional consulting firm, participation can build civic capacity and create a citizenry that serves the community in other endeavors. Since today’s public problems require active citizenry and civic capacity to generate relevant solutions, community engagement cannot rely just on the perspectives of the policy mavens and elected civic elites. In other words, the traditional public hearing, where an individual receives 2 to 3 minutes to voice his or her opinion, is not community engagement. Community engagement by its nature requires true dialogue (two-way communication) and the mutual exchange of ideas between the governmental entity, the professionals and the community.

Article

One of the greatest challenges facing our local governments today is the need for money to provide the necessary services to our communities.  From emergency services to parks and recreation, there are countless demands that cities must meet in order to create and/or maintain an attractive community. The financial ability to provide these vital community services defines a city’s ability to attract and retain residents and businesses. 

Sales taxes and property taxes are valuable resources, coveted by local governments as the keys to financial solvency and ultimately to successful communities.  If city governments can attract and retain businesses that generate significant tax revenue, they will have more freedom to provide better services, and to ultimately be a more attractive place for businesses and residents to locate. 

Great Streets and Fiscal Policy

Our public infrastructure is an investment of taxpayer money. Like any responsible investors, it is imperative that we think about the type of return that our infrastructure investments will yield to our communities. Our region invests hundreds of millions of dollars in public infrastructure every year, and public streets are a major component of that infrastructure. What type of return are taxpayers getting on that investment? From a vehicular capacity perspective, the investment has traditionally been a good one, creating wider streets with more capacity to move people and goods faster and more efficiently in our region. In many cases, though, this is where our thinking about investment in our streets has stopped.  Our streets can be so much more than what they are today. For the amount of money we put into them, they MUST be more.  We need to start thinking of our streets as more than just automobile conduits. If done right, investment in our streets and thoroughfares can create significant returns for local governments and our region in the form of increased real estate values, increased property tax receipts, increased sales tax revenue, improved quality of life, and improved environment. 

Use infrastructure investments to encourage private sector (re)development. Successful cities are strategic about infrastructure investments, using their capital improvement programs to leverage specific kinds of private sector responses. Studies and statistics indicate that there is a redirection of economic growth away from infrastructure-poor areas to areas of positive infrastructure investment. Businesses want to locate in areas with sustainable infrastructure. For local economies, great streets are the pinnacle of positive infrastructure investment. Great streets create public spaces that are inviting to businesses, residents, and multiple modes of travel. They are essential for local economic growth that is sustainable and comprehensive.

How we manage the land uses abutting our streets has an immediate and significant impact on the sense of place along the street. Business type, building style and scale, setback width, solar access, and a variety of other factors all contribute to the type and quality of the public space along the street.  

The implication for great street development is this: type and quality of private investment along the street is shaped substantially by the type and quality of the public realm created by investment in public infrastructure. Choosing to invest in great streets is an essential step in catalyzing healthy private investment along the street. 

Tired arterials are bad for business
St. Louis, MO; Credit: CH2M HILL
good for business
St. Louis, MO; Credit: CH2M HILL

Given the two choices above, where would you rather locate your business?

People have choices when it comes to the question of where to locate their businesses and homes. To attract high quality private sector land use investment, public infrastructure investment (and great street investment in particular) is a competitive necessity. Under the right conditions, the cost of infrastructure can be offset by increases in real estate values and resulting increases in property tax receipts. The costs of great street investment can offset by increases in tax revenues resulting from increased retail sales, employment and other economic trends fueled by the public sector investment.

Generally speaking, local governments stand to gain in numerous ways from rising real estate values. When property values increase, there is an incentive to owners to generate higher returns from property. Investments in great streets may start this chain of events.

In some people's minds, the benefits of strategic transportation investments apply only to wide roads, with the expectation that such improvements will attract large retail or manufacturing enterprises. But these same benefits derive just as often from great streets. The kinds of development you find illustrated throughout this website depend for their success on great streets, just as fully as "Big Box" development depends on wide roadways filled with cars.

About that "big box"...  In recent decades, the evolution of "big box" retail development has become a very popular trend in our region and across our nation. "Super stores" that provide limitless goods and services are scattered throughout our region, providing consumers convenient shopping under one roof, often at lower prices than smaller stores offering a smaller selection.

While "big box" development is often a deterrent to great street transformation, there can be a place for this type of development in our communities. When considering investment in big-box development, it is important to be aware of recent research pointing toward some of the economic challenges associated with doing so: 

  • Cape Cod: big box development creates fewer jobs and less tax revenue than local stores. In one community, (Barnstable, MA) big box development created a net annual deficit of $468 per 1,000 square feet of space (see Resources, "Fiscal Impact Analysis of Residential and Nonresidential Land Use Prototypes")
  • Small towns in Ohio: big box development produced a net annual loss of $0.44 per single square foot of space (see Resources, "Understanding the Fiscal Impacts of Land Use in Ohio")
  • DuPage County, IL: cost of infrastructure, utilities, and emergency services required as a direct result of big box development exceeded the property and sales tax provided by the respective big-box retailers. (see Resources, "Impacts of Development on DuPage County Property Taxes ")
  • Concord, NH: added 2.8 million square feet of big box development over 12 years, resulting in a 19% decrease in sales tax revenue over that same period. (see Resources, The Myth of Big Bucks and Big Box Development).

More and more regions are finding that big-box development is not always a good development choice. Local governments are discovering that the direct and indirect costs of the "big box" can often outweigh the financial benefits that they had hoped for. What's more, there are significant impacts to their communities' small businesses, which are often unable to compete.   

It is also important to point out that some studies suggest that consumers do benefit from big-box retail, in spite of their negative public impacts.  Consumers are choosing to shop at super stores because the lower costs offered at these stores save them money. The consumer benefits are inversely proportional to income level: low-income consumers are benefiting the most from the lower costs offered at super stores. See the report entitled "Consumer Benefits from Increased Competition in Shopping Outlets: Measuring the Effect of Wal-Mart", found in the PDF library, for a recent study conducted by MIT on this subject.

The natural reaction to this is "If big-box stores give those with less income the opportunity to save money on basic necessities, then surely they must be a good thing for communities." But what is the real cost to these lower-income consumers? Is it simply the net difference on their big-box sales receipt when compared with what they would have paid at the local store alternative? What about the additional time and costs required to travel to the big box retailers? What about lost job opportunities to the local businesses that are unable to compete? We must consider all of these issues when thinking about the true costs and benefits for any development, including big-box.

Generally speaking, big-box development is not compatible with most great street developments. If big-box development is chosen, however, local governments should work with the developers to try and think differently about how these sites are developed. In their traditional form, they are massive, impervious sites that generate high travel demand. They are often very difficult to access by any mode other than personal automobile, and their box-like structure usually leaves much to be desired aesthetically. Consider the following elements when planning such developments:

  • site design
    Credit: CH2M HILL
    Building fronts and corners closer to the street create a better sense of place than those set far back from the street, separated by massive parking lots
  • Lighting, signing, building articulation, street trees, canopies, and other design elements can be done in a way that enhances the character of a thoroughfare
  • Better linkage between big-box sites and the pedestrian realm can encourage access by other modes
  • Better linkage between adjacent big-box sites can reduce the number of short vehicular trips between stores
  • Locating big-box development away from highly congested areas can limit the excessive delays often associated with them
  • Large site developments are great opportunities for "green" stormwater applications

In summary, investments in public infrastructure can generate private development, and public revenue. But some kinds of private investment, particularly large retail projects, may not be the great bargain they appear to be.  Local governments are often better advantaged when they look for opportunities to build or improve great streets, as part of their program to build great communities.

Read more: Fiscal Policy & Economics

Article

Plan resolution addresses the changes that often occur in projects, plans and programs during the months and years between initial conception and final implementation.  This is an important issue for transportation projects and for other kinds of public works projects, as well as for various kinds of plans and programs. 

Many times citizens and elected officials are surprised and even dismayed to learn that changes have been made in a project, plan or program in the time since they were personally involved.  An example would be a street reconstruction project for which the design has changed.  Perhaps on-street parking is no longer included or the width of travel lanes is different.  Such changes may be legitimate outcomes of consultation or review, but sometimes changes may have been made casually or for reasons that are not clearly supported or documented.

Public projects, plans and programs work their way through long, sometimes arduous processes before finally being implemented.  Along the way, changes may occur for many reasons.  Plan resolution addresses why such changes occur, how they can be anticipated, and how public sector staff, elected leaders and the general public can ensure that a certain project, plan or program continues to expectations as it approaches completion.

Information is provided in the links below for two general kinds of processes:

  • The plan resolution process associated with infrastructure design projects — public works improvements, including street construction and similar kinds of projects.
  • The plan resolution process associated with various kinds of plans and programs — neighborhood plans, area plans, city transportation plans and other public plans and programs as well as the development of ordinances, rules, regulations and guidelines.

A third type of plan resolution process would apply to the development and redevelopment of urban and suburban lands.  This includes zoning changes, subdivisions, site planning and similar systems for city and county review and approval of proposed changes in land use and proposed development projects, including redevelopment and infill sites. 

These processes vary widely from one jurisdiction to the next.  Even within jurisdictions, development review processes typically are different for different types of projects and may be different in different areas or districts of the city or county.  The steps that proposed developments must take are often quite complex, and may involve multiple rounds of initiation, review, revision and resubmittals. Citizens, elected leaders and others interested in following such projects and monitoring plan resolution should contact the planning departments of the relevant jurisdiction and request an explanation of the requirements for that type of project and an explanation of the review and approval process.  Often, public notification requirements are included in local ordinances and it is possible to follow such development projects closely over the years it takes for them to reach conclusion.

Read more: Plan Resolution

Article

As with many large cities today, St. Louis no longer refers to the urban center within the city limits; it is a complex community of governmental entities that form a metropolitan area. The St. Louis region ranks near the top of the nation in terms of the number of municipal governments, boasting more than 650 units of local government. This translates to roughly 31 per 100,000 persons, or one per every 3,000. Such fragmentation significantly affects the development patterns in our region, and it poses many challenges and demands as we consider ways to work together in our efforts to achieve great streets. A map of the region is available from East-West Gateway.

Collaboration is essential for corridor transformation. Regardless of the size of the municipality, collaboration can still be important. This is especially true for corridors that cross through many municipalities. St. Louis has many of these corrirdors, such as Manchester Road or Olive Boulevard. If change across the length of a corridor is desired, collaboration amongst the respective local governments is absolutely essential. Doing so ensures a number of essential outcomes:

  • Uniformity in planning and design assumptions
  • Avoidance of piece-meal projects that do not consider corridor-wide needs
  • Efficient investment of available revenues across jurisdictions
  • Political endorsement across jurisdictions
  • Potentially, increased ability to secure funding through TIP process

Bring owning agencies to the table early in great street planning. Great streets are often innovative developments, in many cases applying new planning and design approaches to enhance the thoroughfare for all modes. Such innovation is to be encouraged, but it can be counter to traditional planning and design methods. It is therefore paramount to coordinate with the agency(s) that owns the thoroughfare very early in the planning of great street developments. Discussing assumptions and methodologies with the owning agency can ensure consensus early on in the process. If this type of coordination is overlooked, the process can be stalled and even derailed at later phases of the project process.

Collaboration can help small municipalities create great streets. Many of the numerous municipalities in the St. Louis region are relatively small, both in geographic size and in population. As a result, the tax revenue generated by many of these local governments is usually barely sufficient to keep up with basic civic necessities, let alone to come up with matching funds for a great street initiative. Collaboration with neighboring municipalities can be an effective means for small municipalities to reach beyond the limitations of their individual fiscal constraints. It is not uncommon for neighboring communities to share common streets in need of transformation. By banding together, these communities can bring greater resources to bear in their effort to develop great streets. When neighboring cities work together, it also eliminates the competition for tax revenue that all too often leads local governments into making poor development decisions. One primary key for success in this type of collaborative effort is the mutual agreement on revenue sharing/distribution across the area of improvement.

Article

Development review is a regulatory process within planning that allows public entities to evaluate proposed development projects. For development review to function effectively, development standards along with a master plan must first be put into place. Development standards are the criteria by which proposed plans will be reviewed and effectively, judged.

A comprehensive development review process is one that is collaborative and coordinated across all relevant jurisdictions, including city, county, state and metropolitan planning agencies. Development review empowers planners to evaluate proposed development based on a number of criteria, including but not limited to:

  • Zoning
  • Traffic
  • Parking
  • Density
  • Environmental impacts
  • Impacts on public facilities, such as roads, schools, sewers and emergency services
  • General compatibility with neighboring uses

Other issues addressed in development review are:

  • Signage
  • Design
  • Historic preservation

Either embedded within the development review process or following it, may be a design review process. Design review typically addresses more detailed design issues, such as building style, materials, orientation, and facade. 

The development review process may begin in a number of ways. Close coordination with a public planner in the relevant jurisdiction is required for detailed steps in the process. The process should include filing of a proposed project, meetings with adjacent, confronting landowners and local residents; meetings with city staff; public meetings; and ultimately, a meeting with the planning board, during which the proposed development is evaluated in each of the relevant categories.

Development review is a formal process, during which a community has the opportunity to prevent development which is not in the interest of the public welfare and possibly to produce changes in proposed development that make it more appropriate for the community. Regardless of local economics, development review is an important planning tool.

Development review typically includes a number of approvals. It may include preliminary review, which is a city-staff-based decision about the general appropriateness of a proposed project; a site plan review, which will look at the general layout of the proposed development on the site; and a more detailed review of qualities such as bulk, density, far, etc.

Although development review is a necessary tool for all place types addressed in this web tool, it will likely play a larger role in areas where more regulatory standards apply.

Incentivize great streets with expedited development review. One way governmental agencies can encourage great streets in their community is to reward it with an expedited development review process. While this approach costs nothing for governmental agencies, it usually translates into savings for the private sector. 

Make the development review process comprehensive. Too often, the development review process fails to include elements that significantly contribute to great streets. Careful access management is essential to a great street, yet access permits are often granted outside of the development review process, when negotiations are complete.  All relevant departments within a local government should be involved in the development review process, including public works, transportation, urban design, pathways/recreation, forestry, in addition to planning staff.  If the roadway is owned by another agency, such as the county or state, its representative should also be included.

Read more: Development Review