Community engagement is the process of public participation and involvement that promotes relationship building through learning, action, and the expression of needs and values. Community engagement can bring vibrancy and innovation to planning practice by strengthening the degree of public commitment to planning processes and making more perspectives available to decision makers. Planners and community leaders already promote engagement through a variety of traditional tools, including public surveys, visioning workshops, town halls, meetings, and public hearings. Increasingly, however, planners and community leaders are using new, creative tools as well as traditional ones.
Creative tools for community engagement include innovative visual-art techniques, storytelling, social-networking technology, exhibits, music, performance, festivals, and community gatherings. When planners use these tools, it can indicate that they are receptive to feedback, genuine in their acknowledgment of others' viewpoints, and committed to making participation and the development of relationships as easy as possible.
About the Authors
Kimberley Hodgson, MURP, MS, AICP, RD is the founder of Cultivating Healthy Places, an international consulting business specializing in community health, social equity and sustainable food systems planning. As a certified planner and health professional, her work focuses on conducting policy-relevant research and providing technical assistance to the public and private sectors related to the design and development of healthy, sustainable places. Hodgson served as co-investigator of a $3.96 million grant awarded to the University at Buffalo by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Food Systems Program. The project, Growing Food Connections, generated knowledge about the effectiveness of local and regional government policies in improving food security in underserved communities, strengthening the resilience of rural communities, and supporting the economic viability of food production. She is the author of Planning for Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems and co-author of Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy Sustainable Places. Ms. Hodgson holds an undergraduate degree from New York University in pre-medicine, a Master of Science in food policy and applied nutrition from Tufts University, and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning with a specialization in community health and sustainability from Virginia Tech.