Neighborhood Planning

 [Text by Sarah McKinley and Kenneth M. Reardon, March 2017]


Thousands of “neighborhood planning” efforts have been equally as important to making cities more participatory and equity-oriented, as have progressive administrations in city governments.

Research and involvement by Kenneth Reardon in Memphis, New Orleans, East St. Louis and several New York City neighborhoods and by Pierre Clavel in Community Development Corporations in Youngstown, Ohio, Wiscasset, Maine, and elsewhere formed the initial basis for these collections. These were later supplemented by a number of dissertations and theses, and by donation of materials by other scholars and activists.

The cast of characters and set of activities were also different from those of city hall-based progressive city officials and administrators, though equally remarkable. Major community-organizing traditions began: Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (Chicago, much earlier), ACORN, and “Citizen Action” groups like Mass Fair Share (Massachusetts).

Advocacy planning became a common thing and paralleled community organizing. Major early contributors were 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.

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.

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: Largely identified with advocacy planners was Planners for Equal Opportunity (PEO) in the 1960s and Planners Network, begun by Chester Hartman in 1975 as a small newsletter. It was holding annual conferences by the 1990s, began publication of a print magazine, Progressive Planning in 2001, and transformed into an internet-based publication renamed Progressive City: Radical Alternatives in 2016.

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. Much neighborhood planning 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 South Memphis Initiative.

Much of the work putting together the “Neighborhood Planning” section of this website and digital collection occurred under the auspices of the Clarence Stein Fund administered by Prof. Michael Tomlan of the Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University. We report and post this work in Progressive Cities and Neighborhood Planning Collection Report on 2011-2012 Stein Grant, principal author Sarah McKinley, 2012.