Neighborhood Planning

While “progressive cities” neighborhood activists ran for elective office and won control of city governments, an equally important shift in local government practice is represented in thousands of “neighborhood planning” experiences. Research and involvement by Kenneth Reardon in East St. Louis and several New York City neighborhoods and by Pierre Clavel in Community Development Corporations in Youngstown, Ohio, Wiscasset, Maine, and elsewhere have formed the initial basis for these collections, supplemented by a number of dissertations and theses.

The cast of characters and set of activities were also different from those of progressive city officials and administrators, though equally remarkable. Major community-organizing traditions began: Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (Chicago, much earlier), ACORN, “Citizen Action” groups like Mass Fair Share (Massachusetts). Advocacy planning became a common thing. Support operations like the Ohio Public Interest Campaign and technical assistance centers like the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development in New York City came into being.

Parallel to community organizing was the emergence of advocacy planning, stimulated by the work of Walter Thabit, Paul Davidoff, Chester Hartman, Ron Shiffman, and others, often but not always based in university city planning programs. In some cases, neighborhood initiated plans supplanted city hall proposals. There was the establishment of exemplary community development corporations that planned and affected city policies: Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston, New Community Corporation in Newark, and dozens of other major ones, some with histories lasting three decades or more. There were also efforts at city initiated neighborhood planning: places like Savannah, Georgia and Rochester, New York made remarkable efforts in the 1990s, and there were earlier efforts going back to the 1960s. National networks also developed: Planners for Equal Opportunity (PEO) in the 1960s and Planners Network, begun by Chester Hartman in 1975 as a small newsletter, was holding annual conferences by the 1990s.

Our studies of neighborhood planning efforts include direct action organizing, neighborhood planning projects, as well as the work of community development corporations (CDCs) that experienced explosive growth in the 1980s and 1990s as cities and the federal government withdrew their own support from poor neighborhoods. The neighborhood planning that we are interested in evolves out of participatory action research, where scholars and students engage with members of poor communities to share in the planning process. Examples represented from our own experience include Ken Reardon’s in the East St Louis Action Research Project, the creation of the and the South Memphis Initiative.