Experiential Engagement – An analysis in terms of Planning and the community

Do these people pictured represent the community or are they users of this place?

Are they free riders that just use the place and the community pays for it? The community not only deserves to have a say in their future, they can make a valuable contribution through their detailed understanding of the place.

We have a responsibility to contribute, collaborate and debate outcomes on behalf of the common good as well as individual interest.

The outcome of urban design is as much about means as ends. Of course we need to engage the community in the process rather than only ‘consulting’ them. Good communication between stakeholders is vital.

With the orientation of Planning now creating focus towards communities since the 1970’s (Duffy and Hutchinson 1997) with an emphasis on partnership, empowerment and consultation. To me I feel that the process is still top down, in that the political process that controls planning, well here in Australia removes the notion of one of the three, empowerment.

Can this empowerment be sourced from the key stakeholders that are within the communities context. As in do the public know what they think is right, well cars and housing currently go together like jam on bread. It’s not necessarily a good thing on mass. But the lifestyle of a suburban dweller is actually more connected and community aware than a inner city dweller, as Brueckner and Largey put it, as social interactions go down as the densities go up (2006).

Creating livable urban environments – places that are good to live, work, and play – starts with the community. A consultation process that’s well planned, well carried out, and the right style for the community, will let you learn what people value, what things they want changed, and want they want council to manage.

“No other expertise can be substituted for locality knowledge in planning, whether the planning is creative, coordinating or predictive” Jane Jacobs.

So does this mean that we can have a social, dynamic society without a governing body? This is where community auditing can be used as a method of consultation (Murtagh 1999). But this analysis has to be done without prejudice and with the community in mind. But what if this process is not done correctly? The problem with analysis is that it takes a slice of attitudes and could also fail with reinterpretation by what was said and not written down.

What if the voice gets lost or is misunderstood by trusted people in the chain of authority? Jacob talks of the importance of “hop-and-skip” relationships. This relationship within the community relates to Highgate Hill and West End. As part of the development process, signs are placed in the public realm.

Such signs give notice publicly advertising the fact that something is going on and here it is. You’re able to find out what is going on before anything happens. All details are available; there are no middle men to hide key factors or to mislead infringing interests.

Remember that consultation without action is meaningless. With the information you get from the community let the community know how you’ll use it. Allowing communities to self govern as well as developing broader policy direction than to micromanage is the step forward in achieving this.