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Neighbors Building Neighborhoods

william johnson mayor rochester new york

At a time when New York is engaged in the most ambitious and widespread development planning in decades, the conflicting visions of city planners, developers and local neighborhoods have never been more apparent and the stakes have never been higher.

The constant media attention and unparalleled public and private resources being devoted to examining and monitoring the city’s plans for the next 50 years provides civic organizations and the city with unique opportunities to consider new planning tools and methods that could usher in a truly participatory process.

Planning, zoning and the public review process must be looked at in new ways to ensure that new projects meet the needs of a diverse population and a changing economy — both today and in the decades to come.

A Fresh Start – On November 30, more than 100 representatives from community-based organizations, community boards, environmental justice organizations, academic institutions and city agencies came together at the Urban Center for a series of comprehensive workshops on the role of communities in New York’s planning process. The event, Community-Based Planning in New York City: Summit 2004, was sponsored by the Community-Based Planning Task Force and coordinated by the Municipal Art Society’s Planning Center.

Mayor William A. Johnson of Rochester, New York, gave an inspiring keynote address to summit participants and described his city’s locally based planning process. Known as Neighbors Building Neighborhoods, the program has received national acclaim. It is structured on the basis of 10 planning sector groups that create community vision statements, identify neighborhood priorities and develop action plans to implement goals. So far, this partnership of city government, planning sectors and community stakeholders has helped to realize three-quarters of the recommendations listed in the action plans. Each year, the city’s budget reflects the programs and projects required to carry out neighborhood plan priorities. Ongoing training and reportage, capacity building, technology resources and mechanisms for accountability are built into the process.

Despite the differences between New York City and Rochester, and the many challenges to engaging diverse communities in a meaningful way, Mayor Johnson said that with a true commitment to a citizen-led process, community-based planning can work anywhere.