Planners continue to test new tools and methods for engaging historically marginalized communities in ways that meaningfully include these communities' input without tokenizing their participation.
In their new article for the Journal of the American Planning Association "Evaluating Geodesign for Community-Based Tribal Planning," Jonathan Davis, K. David Pijawka, Elizabeth Wentz, Michelle Hale, and David A. King explore the use of one particular method, Geodesign, in engaging several Navajo communities in Arizona in land use planning who have historically been excluded from government planning processes.
Geodesign is a method that "leverages geospatial technologies to analyze, quantify, and visualize environmental processes in real time to permit feedback and analysis on design decisions from an interdisciplinary group of experts and diverse decision makers." The process typically comprises three phases, in which planners
- Collect data to understand the environmental, political, and cultural processes at work in the study area
- Determine the primary measurements to be used to assess a plan and the additional spatial data that will need to be collected
- Conduct a Geodesign workshop with community members to guide the plan's creation. Figure 1 shows this process. These community members ideally are able to make decisions for their communities, as well as be representative of the communities' various needs.
Figure 1. A community-based approach to Geodesign for historically disenfranchised communities. The diagram follows the general Geodesign framework proposed by Steinitz (2012) but identifies planning roles within the Geodesign planning process's three iterations.
To assess the effectiveness of this process, the authors studied two uses of Geodesign to create community-based land use plans in the LeChee and Coppermine chapters of the Navajo nation. They specifically sought to answer two questions:
- Is Geodesign effective in connecting geospatial information with participatory processes and community-based decisions?
- What is the planner's role in a Geodesign process seeking to produce acceptable participatory approaches based on Indigenous culture and values?
To answer these questions, they conducted surveys and focus groups with participants of each of the Geodesign workshops.
The authors found that the Geodesign process did indeed engage both communities as active decision-makers in the design process, with 100 percent of respondents indicating that their opinions and knowledge were considered in creating the plan and 96.2 percent indicating that the plan honored their culture and reflected community values. Respondents also expressed that the process specifically was more effective than previous community engagement processes used within the two communities, which often felt tokenizing and made community members feel as if they were not being heard. Because of these factors, almost all respondents also suggested that other American Indian communities embrace this process in creating community land use plans, which is a major shift from community response to previous processes.
The article highlights the role of the planner in the Geodesign process as a facilitator, planning knowledge resource, and community capacity builder, and will be useful for any planners looking to explore methods to meaningfully engage historically marginalized communities in land use planning.
The Journal of the American Planning Association is the quarterly journal of record for the planning profession. For full access to the JAPA archive, APA members may purchase a discounted subscription for $48/year, or a digital-only subscription for $36/year.
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About the author
Ben Demers is a Master of Urban Planning and Master of Public Policy candidate at Harvard University.