Friday, October 17, 2014  |  1 Comment(s)  |   Email   Print

Designing for people: V2V community engagement and process

by Ryan Mackin


The community engagement strategy for Vacant to Vibrant incorporated desires and concerns of neighborhood residents in Gary, Cleveland, and Buffalo into a vision and eventual design for each project site. We solicited residents’ input on programming elements that are part of the use and aesthetic of each location, and the design team synthesized those ideas with technical elements that manage stormwater.

While obtaining input for design was the most important goal of our community process, other goals included:

  • providing knowledge of the project and construction
  • educating on stormwater basics
  • assuring positive community impact
  • invoking a sense of community “ownership and care” at each site
  • obtaining local, non-design information such as red flags or hindrances to the project

Some of these additional goals impacted design indirectly, and all of them aimed at long-term success in the community. Beyond our intended goals in the process, dialogue with residents created new opportunities to discuss maintenance, formed relationships with residents and neighborhood leaders, created multiple forums to discuss community issues and even served as a type of catalyst for the Crestwood Avenue street club in Cleveland.


Timeline of Process

The following lists include major community events during 2014 in each city that all led in some way to final designs:

Gary Cleveland
Introductory Presentation on V2V February Introductory Presentation on V2V February
Stoop Surveys and Canvassing July Stoop Survey and Canvassing June
Community Design Meeting July Community Design Input Meeting June
Community Mailings August Community Design Review Meeting July
  Follow-up Stoop Surveys July
In Gary, detailed design mailers were sent in lieu of a second community meeting. This lead to additional resident feedback over the phone. In Cleveland, additional community meetings were held with the Crestwood street club to solidify design plans.
Additional elements of engagement in all cities included: sending and receiving phone calls, sending email blasts, posting project signs on site, social media and web-based canvassing, and conversations that occurred while visiting the neighborhoods for technical analysis.
Community Planning Congress March
Stoop Surveys & Canvassing June
Community Development Meeting July
Community Development Meeting August
In Buffalo, text and web-based surveying as well as postcards were utilized throughout the process.

As a result of all of these actions, word-of-mouth promotion of the project became apparent—creating a secondary form of engagement where residents engage one another. Virtually all printed and electronically delivered materials included project team contact information to provide residents continual access to the process, and explicitly extended the invitation to do so.

As the process evolved from more general information in community presentations to specific site feedback in surveys and community meetings, we moved towards consensus without compromising research goals imperative to our work. Throughout this period of engagement we were led by our own neutrality in design considerations and fair representation, but also guidance in a constructive design process that was unfamiliar to most residents.




As you can see from the timeline, a variety of community engagement strategies were utilized in order to incorporate resident feedback for site programming and ensure future site use. Each step of the process built a foundation for communication between residents and the project team and partners. By focusing on big picture elements, then addressing specific site design characteristics, we were able to serve community goals and project goals in parallel. The design process followed this approach by considering neighborhood needs, followed by selected site factors, followed by specific site elements. The variety of engagement methods allowed for a resident-designer symbiotic recalibration of process over time.

Here is how the strategy played out in each city:

Gary: Community Process and Feedback

The introductory meeting in February provided project background and intent for upcoming work in the Aetna community. In attendance were many stakeholders with vested interest in the community, as well as a fair share of residents. It was apparent early on that Aetna residents valued ideals of beautification and revitalization. The openness of residents made for an open design process and also led to more generalized site programming. During stoop surveys the majority of residents voiced a desire to not have spaces blatantly designed for congregation, thus few if any benches were placed on any given site. This part of the Aetna neighborhood, west of Aetna Street, is home to a lot of older residents and is known to be a quiet area—the desire to keep that atmosphere was fairly universal. The July community meeting reiterated much of the same desires and helped to form a hardened consensus for designs. Lighting, natural areas, walkable paths and trails were all ideas aimed at safety and beauty. In the final round of the process, personal mailers were sent to residents within 150 feet of each project site, leading to a half dozen follow-up phone calls. Final phone discussions about Aetna sites were very positive, requiring no serious design changes, and showed a deep care for their immediate community.

Figure 1. Map of Community Engagement Efforts (Gary, Indiana). This map shows locations of residents who participated in stoop surveys, phone calls, and where design mailers were sent for final draft design review, in relation to project sites. Almost all residences west of Aetna Street were canvassed for community meetings.


Cleveland: Community Process and Feedback

The community process in Cleveland was more complicated than in Gary and required balancing interests of a wider range of stakeholder interests. Each step in Cleveland’s community engagement provided us with more information that would help shape the next step. Unlike Gary, the introductory meeting in February was a joint meeting with other projects involving the Sewer District and Trust for Public Land. The meeting allowed us the opportunity to introduce the Vacant to Vibrant project and its relationship to other green infrastructure projects. Though lightly attended, key neighborhood leaders came to learn about our project and other green infrastructure projects nearby, and they conveyed this information to their neighbors. The first round of stoop surveys during the summer revealed a wide variety of desires from residents ranging from active uses like sport courts and natural play areas to passive uses like sitting areas and reflective spaces. A well-attended community design input meeting in June allowed residents to focus in on specific sites and to narrow the range of specific site design themes. Two sites remained open for active use while one had strong emphasis on more passive use. A community design feedback meeting one month later gave residents a chance to review the designers’ plans that were influenced by previous discussions and surveys. Because some residents near project sites were not in attendance, we decided a final follow-up survey of all residents within 150 feet would help solidify design input. Response to the design for the passive site was not as high as for the active sites where details of site design (connection to rear parcels and safety via lighting) were of greater concern to neighbors. Concerns about the active site on Crestwood Avenue led to a street club meeting to address specific design features. Much of the concern centered on the image of a basketball hoop to symbolize active use in an early design rendering. Picnic tables in this rendering were also contentious, though most residents remained open to some variety of activity and congregation on the parcel. Key design elements that emerged for all the sites in Cleveland included safety concerns, options for children, maintenance, restricting hours of use, and mitigating illegal activity. The need to create a net benefit for the community, balancing neighborhood assets and liabilities, was a consistent theme in Cleveland’s resident feedback.

Figure 2. Map of Community Engagement Efforts (Cleveland, Ohio). This map shows locations of residents who participated in stoop surveys and community meetings, in relation to project sites.  Not all attendance at community meetings is shown as not all residents included their address at sign-in, and residents and stakeholders from the extended community (beyond the map border) also attended.  All residents on Shale, Hulda and Crestwood Avenue were canvassed for community meetings.


Buffalo: Community Process and Feedback

Because of PUSH Buffalo’s long-standing community involvement, the Vacant to Vibrant project in Buffalo’s west side had a different form, but with similar elements to Gary and Cleveland. An introductory meeting took place around the same time as meetings in Cleveland and Gary. Unlike the other cities, PUSH had already identified specific parcels for this meeting, and community meetings were able to address specific design considerations from the outset. Door-to-door canvassing, monthly Community Development Committee meetings, annual Planning Congresses, and virtual conversations through social media were already a part of PUSH’s community planning, so the concept and pitch of Vacant to Vibrant fit naturally into their established operations. One site already featured community gardening as a program element, and thus addition of GI was purely a technical matter. At the other two sites, ongoing conversations and outreach lead to an early consensus of having an active space adjacent to a park and another place to congregate. The canvassing and development meetings over the summer helped to confirm specific elements on each site by polling nearby residents and providing an open door to programming input.


Conclusion and Future Engagement

In all Vacant to Vibrant cities, safety and concern for children, desire for neighborhood vitality, and community involvement radiated from residents. It became clear that involving residents directly with green infrastructure design was essential and appreciated, despite regional differences. The success of our consultation with residents is encouraging and validates our early emphasis on community engagement. Although time consuming, the consultation process and community engagement has certainly proved worthwhile, and we imagine this work will help ensure future success at all project sites.

Overall, the process was much more than resident demands of “wants” or “don’t wants” because reasons for desires and concerns were multi-layered. As a team, we were not only capturing a checklist to be included or excluded in site designs, but discovering a neighborhood—it’s cut-throughs, hopes for youth, seedy vacant house concerns, daily issues, social dynamic—and the sentiment attached to each of these factors. For us, it was a crash course into their lives as much as it was a lesson in environmental design for them. The process provided an oral history of distant and recent past, and we attempted to collect and honor that narrative into small vacant plots of land on each street.

Once all of the sites are installed, future engagement in each neighborhood will move away from a design focus and toward community care, action, maintenance, and response. Clean up days or painting days will aim to bring residents together and solidify the realization that this land is theirs to enjoy and care for. Maintenance plans will aim to include residents’ desires in lawn and plant care, and continued surveys will help to analyze the efficacy of the process and designs. Immediate issues will be resolved and hopefully taper in future months as the sites truly become something in the hands of the community.

Actual design, plans and renderings that were developed from this community process will be shared on the blog very soon, so stay posted!


Selection of resources used in Vacant to Vibrant community engagement:

Design Meeting Flyer sample

Original Survey

Original Survey formatted for Stoop Surveys

Follow-Up Survey

Gary Design Info/Feedback Mailers

Cleveland Design Info/Feedback Sheets

Additional Resources:

Ohio Citizen's Good Neighbor Campaign Handbook

5x5 Guide to Green Infrastructure: Projects Any Community Can Do

Albany 2030 Public Outreach Plan (Stoop Surveys, pg 12)


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Reader Comments

shubhanker @ Thursday, February 07 2019 10:56 PM Flag Inappropriate
the best page to read and getting more knowledge. waiting for your next post.

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