Community Involvement in Neighbourhood Revitalization

The idea of community involvement in urban planning is not new. Current theory of community participation suggests that residents are excluded from community development process. Today’s world requires more local involvement in the planning and management of cities and this demand is increasing more everyday. It is commonly acknowledged that this bottom-up approach is the only way that people will get the surroundings they want and it is the best way of ensuring safer, stronger, wealthier and more sustainable communities. Such an inclusive urban planning approach has spread all around the world quickly and has been in practice mainly for social integration and equality. On the one hand, all researches and practices tried to find better ways of participation for all stakeholders and users; and on the other, governments have been paying more attention to find a balanced decision-making process between bottom-up and top-down approaches.

In the UK, the government gave local communities greater control over local decisions like housing and planning with the 2011 Localism Act, which contains a wide array of measures to decentralize powers to councils and neighbourhoods. As of 2012, ‘localist’ approach with an emphasis on local economic growth, community-led regeneration and reforms in public service provision by local authorities was preferred to urban regeneration strategies. Also, Community Enterprises (CEs) that are the social enterprises run by local people are seen as an important tool for urban regeneration. European countries are increasingly putting emphasis on community-led urban regeneration as well.

The US has been paying great attention to localized community planning since early 1990s by establishing community development corporations (CDCs), which are community-based organisations that have close ties with deprived neighbourhoods and strive to improve the physical, social and economic conditions in these areas. However American localism created a down point when neighbourhood groups were expected to carry out neighbourhood revitalization strategies with minimal funding and the effort was marginalized financially and bureaucratically. The HOPE VI program emerged in 1992 with the purposes of improving conditions of public housing development through physical revitalization and integrating physical, social and economic infrastructure with their surrounding neighbourhoods to increase quality of life. In 2010, the White House started Neighbourhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) to help local leaders design integrated solutions, to provide greater flexibility for grantees to tailor federal tools to fit local circumstances and to make strategic investment choices instead of just spreading federal funds around equally to all areas irrespective of need. Habitat for Humanity expanded its array of services for communities in US and started Neighborhood Revitalization approach that includes neighbours and local organizations for an increased impact.

The approach does not change too much in developing countries, whereas the content or the purpose differs according to the needs of that geography. In India, for instance, the community development approach (CBOs) was introduced by the Government as a part of poverty alleviation programme. They created the community structures and developed capacities to identify the needs, to prioritize them, and to develop community plans and city plan of action. The ultimate goals of CBOs are coordination and collaboration, monitoring the community plans and achieving the social sector goals while improving the residents’ quality of life. The successful revitalization stories of South Africa’s Cape Town, Tshwane and Ethekwini Municipality were due to the community’s involvement in the process and placing them in key positions. Their revitalization has proven that the fundamentals for sustainable development can only begin with the community themselves.

Neighbourhood revitalization usually consists of a series of community improvement projects, rather than a single initiative. All around the world, the regulations and policies have given more power to local institutions and communities since the late 90s. It is clear today that in urban planning and design, community involvement is the only way to accomplish sustainable development and neighbourhood revitalization.