Since our elected leaders have once again indefinitely postponed Last week I wondered whether urbanists should rethink their antipathy to neighborhood plans. Rather than scorn the traditional dominion of anti-density preservationists, maybe they should exercise their rights as neighborhood residents and get involved in setting the development rules for their neighborhoods.
The post got a lot of response on ATXUrbanists and Twitter, mostly from those who dismissed the idea. Most of the comments described how the neighborhood planning process is driven by a small group of homeowners. The plan therefore reflects their interests, rather than the interests of lower-income people, renters or future residents.
That case was beautifully illustrated in this infographic that Lauren Hartnett (known on the Twitterverse as DollyPartonSocialism) was kind enough to lend me:
I can’t contest any of the information presented here. The neighborhood planning process is simply not democratic.
It is supposed to be a collaboration between city staff and the “neighborhood plan contact team,” which is a group of residents who get together, elect leaders and vote on what they want development regulations in their neighborhood to look like.
The problem is, each neighborhood plan contact team has been allowed to set its own rules on membership. The audit cited a number of outrageous policies imposed by certain contact teams, such as requiring participants to be dues-paying members of private neighborhood associations. At least one team insisted that you had to have lived in the area for five years to participate. You can’t make this stuff up.
I would hope that city staff has cracked down on these kinds of blatant abuses in the 20 months since the audit came out. But the fact that they took place for so long is just a reflection of the pathetically low participation. It’s hard to care about being excluded from a process you’re not aware of.
So, yes, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that delegating city planning to City Council is more democratic than delegating it to an obscure political authority that most people in the area have never heard of. Council members are democratically elected, after all –– although far too many of them were elected in low turnout runoff elections.
The thing is, there doesn’t appear to be any political will to do away with neighborhood plans. Right after pushing (with partial success) to add some density-friendly provisions to the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Plan, CM Jimmy Flannigan said he hoped his district in the Northwest burbs would be able to craft neighborhood plans in the future.
So in the meantime, neighborhood plans appear to be the only game in town. Anybody who wants to make a difference better play.