Date of Award

6-2010

Degree Name

Master of City and Regional Planning

Department

City and Regional Planning

Advisor

Umut Toker

Abstract

“Public participation” takes on various forms in the realm of local government planning. Many planners stand behind the ideal of involving community, but participation in practice often fails to achieve this objective. The primary vehicle for local government participation is the public hearing, which is a formalized process that often elicits one-way communication from planner to public. The nature of a hearing is to inform the public about development applications or policy changes, expose governing body decisions to the public, and elicit reactions from interested members of the public. Significant effort is taken daily by local planning departments to promote this transparent form of decision-making. The public can stay informed by reading legal ads in the newspaper, checking municipal websites, paying attention to public notice signs, attending hearings or simply receiving a hearing notice in their mailbox. However, staying informed and being involved are two completely different concepts. True involvement is two-way communication between public and planner. This study reports that the public hearing does not provide this necessary involvement. Alternative methods, such as workshops, are explored that break the formal mold of local government participation. Findings indicate that participation is more genuine in a loosely structured setting where face-to-face communication can occur between public and planner and among members of the public themselves. However, findings also suggest that genuine participation is not always appropriate given the intent of a public meeting. Many hearings are held at the end of the planning process for development applications requiring quasi-judicial decisions based on standards. The key is getting public input on earlier legislative decisions about policies that define the standards themselves. This study concludes with a toolkit of techniques practitioners can use to enhance public participation in planning, and observations about appropriate stages to implement those techniques in the planning process.

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