Many municipalities across Connecticut and New England are finding that community engagement – proactively, thoughtfully and creatively asking their residents for their attention and ideas about proposed housing and commercial development – pays off big time. That was extremely evident Thursday and Friday, Jan. 10 and 11 at UMass/Amherst when three federal agencies – HUD, EPA and DOT – along with the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities brought together experts and advocates to discuss the best ways to merge affordable housing creation, transit and liveable, sustainable and environmentally sound practices.
The Partnership for Strong Communities talked about community engagement strategies it promotes, including its new video about five very different Connecticut communities – Hamden, Old Saybrook, Colchester, Bristol and Simsbury – that have used an array of community engagement methods – charrettes, town meetings, websites and crowd-sourcing among them – to harvest ideas and achieve buy-in for their development plans.
If you are having trouble viewing this video, please click here.
But there were other great ideas, from Burlington VT’s Downtown and Waterfront Plan, to the Knowledge Corridor consumer-friendly, participation-inviting website created by the Capital Region Council of Governments and the Springfield-area Pioneer Valley Planning Commission to further its Sustainable Communities Initiative planning activities to the wide-ranging efforts of Fitchburg, MA Mayor Lisa A. Wong to engage her community in city betterment efforts.
A growing number of organizations and government entities – municipal and regional – are using or promoting community engagement because the changing housing market is moving many more communities to increase their efforts at housing creation. They are finding that they need a wider array of housing options – smaller, denser, more affordable, energy-efficient, walkable and, if possible, close to transit – to meet the needs of empty-nesters, young professionals and families, and workers in a region that, despite a falloff in demand, has seen rental and purchase prices remain very high.