Although we are all familiar with the consultation phase of any regeneration project, housing development or any new structure that we are a neighbour to, how often do individuals clearly and effectively engage with urban planners, architects and developers in any meaningful way? Engagement with local communities is an imperative for the future of urban planning, to ensure that communities remain whole in regenerated areas, that services work across multi-layers of communities and that there remains a thread, a connection, between the past of an area and its future.
Engagement in the popular sense is a part of political life that has helped to build communities, rural and urban landscapes over time. Listening to the thoughts, desires, worries and challenges faced by a local community should be the basis of honest planning and joined-up thinking that creates a better future for all. Real and effective engagement in this manner can only work if it is designed and managed in a way that listens to all sides of an argument, where empathy and understanding are allows to sit freely and openly in discussion about a proposed single structure or wider development.
When community engagement is sought in a good and compassionate way, it utilised the appropriate tools to explore the situation at hand. It enables negotiation and compromise for all sides of an argument and provides accountability for those who should be held accountable. This could be used to implement wider master-planning of an entire section of a city, or for the planning permission for a single block of residential or commercial units within an existing estate.
Through multiple instances of consultation with the local community, the decision-making process can become multi-layered, taking on board the specific worries of the impact of the proposal in question and looking at the political motivations, and the future social and economic repercussions. On a micro-level, the proposal should also be investigated for its impact on the noise levels within a residential neighbourhood, the impact on local footfall, the environment, transport solutions and local authority budgets for waste disposal and management and other factors.
Large-scale community engagement events are a start. They provide a wide audience in a local area with the chance to see the proposed plans for a new development and the scale of the potential impact. Aside from that, smaller, focused groups where consultation speaks to community leaders, business people from the local area and local council department heads and experts in certain urban-function processes, can assess and provide reports on the impact of the development.
Local engagement should go through many stages, with the voices of the local community heard on many different occasions. It should be used as a voice to check the natural urges of developers, whilst maintaining that link between the past, the present and the future. As urban communities become larger, and higher quantities of people migrate to cities, this connection and the need for the community voice to be heard within the planning of urban environments will become more important by the year.