Last Updated: May 12, 2021
Here's a brief list of when writing neighborhood plans helps communities:
If you need dialogue about a trend you see, or even a slow drift that seems to be headed neither upward or downward, a plan can create new ideas and action agendas if you seize the opportunity.
We want to emphasize right at the beginning of this article that neighborhood plans should not be prepared by just a few leaders or the board members only of a neighborhood association. You need broad involvement because in a democracy, that's what we do. But also, being pragmatic about it, you want to generate many ideas, you can use the insights and information that community members can give you, and you want as many people understanding your plan as possible so that you have the necessary political clout when the plan is threatened.
In truth, neighborhood plans usually are prepared only where there is a strong neighborhood organization already, or where the municipal government has recognized or arbitrarily created a neighborhood boundary for administrative purposes and is promoting the idea of a neighborhood plan for each designated area.
In fact, if you haven't done so already, figuring out exactly where your borders lie should be the first task in creating your plan.
You need to try to involve all types of residents and others who might have a stake in the community but don't live there, such as businesspersons , congregations, or heads of influential organizations housed in your neighborhood. Doing so is critical to obtaining "buy-in" from those groups.
If you're in a democracy, don't have someone sit in a cubicle and do scholarly neighborhood planning. See what your stakeholders are willing to support. Read our community engagement page if you have trouble visualizing how to get people involved.
You can certainly do some or all of the work yourselves, but the best of neighborhood plans probably will require the help of a professional, which might be a city employee, city planning consultant, university student team, or extension agent.
If you want to do a plan, approach your city government first and ask what resources they can offer. Don't make this request half-baked; there may be a great deal of competition for the efforts of a few professional planners, so prepare ahead to answer why you want a plan and the benefits you anticipate both for yourselves and for your city.
Don't let anyone tell you that neighborhood plans have to cover topics X, Y, and Z to be viable. While we think you and the planners should make a very broad scan of conditions and issues, there's no reason that neighborhood plans have to address every conceivable subject.
But the plan must focus on the most important one or ones, or it could end up being useless. In fact, you could write a single-issue neighborhood plan if you want to concentrate on one problem or opportunity.
Neighborhoods should not ignore elephants in the living room.
Since we promised to talk about typical topics, here is a good list that can serve as a starting point in describing existing conditions:
Then you should present an analysis of the problems and opportunities that your existing conditions show. The written neighborhood plan then should move to posing alternatives that you considered, and lastly you delineate the plan itself, explaining the rationale behind each choice.
The plan then is presented in some combination of the following forms:
For further ideas, you could see our recommended book, Community Planning: An Introduction to the Comprehensive Plan.
Although specifically dealing with a comprehensive plan, also known as
master plan, it gives you an idea of the topics you should consider. The sitemap for this website also may be useful; consult in particular the Neighborhoods and Distressed Neighborhoods spreadsheets linked in the yellow box near the top of that sitemap.
If all of this seems overwhelming, especially if you do not have any access to a city staff planner or to a planning consultant, remember that a short, breezy, and very focused plan that you write yourselves could be very impactful. A crisp one-page plan would knock their socks off, if it's ambitious yet attainable, and clear about who should take what step first, second, and third. I'm not a fan of long-winded plans unless that length really adds value.
A plan outline could be as simple as this:
If you've never faced the fact that the storefronts are vacant, prevent other stores from being as prosperous as they could be, and need to be filled, you will have made significant progress even though you won't win any awards.
We should caution that if one of your primary motivations for undertaking neighborhood planning is that you want to use it to bolster your grant applications, you will need a much more formal and all-inclusive style and substance. However, if your goal is directed primarily at getting your own internal juices flowing, don't underestimate the power of having a real plan that does not just "sit on a shelf."
As veterans of this process, of course we have plenty to say about the planning process--so much that we wrote a separate page about the community planning process.
Here let's just list the steps for you, in case you're in a hurry and can't get into that other page right now:
Of course what we aren't saying is that often when you are at step 4 or 5, it becomes apparent that you need more information (back to step 1) or that the community support for your goals (step 3) has fallen apart. So it isn't neat and tidy, but this is a general outline of the progress you can expect.
Isn't your community worth deciding on a revitalization strategy or a thoughtful look at what it will take to keep your community beautiful? Yes, plans are made to be revised when unexpected opportunities arise, but until then, your neighborhood can make its own luck by writing a simple or elaborate plan and proceeding to follow it. You will need to have a discussion about what revisions to make, if any, every three to five years, depending on how quickly conditions are improving in your neighborhood.
We think the photo links below are especially relevant in most neighborhood planning situations. But as you begin your planning, you may want to check out the complete list of neighborhood interest pages on our site. If nothing on our site floats your boat, check out a different slant on this neighborhood planning site.