For the 143 communities and regions engaged in planning for a prosperous future, the Sustainable Communities Initiative is a game-changing opportunity. In the same spirit of the interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities which forged new ways of doing business across HUD, DOT, and EPA, this program is poised to catalyze new networks of relationships, new problem-solving methods, and new, inclusive decision-making tables. By bringing together diverse and disparate interests while developing new leaders, Sustainable Communities is seeding an opportunity for regions and communities to craft an authentic vision for an equitable and prosperous future. As community members set joint tables with advocacy groups, planners, business leaders, policymakers, local development organizations, universities, and foundations to develop a blueprint for future prosperity, a shared vision will only materialize if the residents of historically marginalized communities see themselves as full partners. That entails having a voice and decision-making input to own the change they want to see.
Community engagement is the foundation of the Sustainable Communities Initiative. Community engagement fosters the transformative relationships and increased ownership necessary to build sustainable communities of opportunity. Community engagement deepens the innovative, silo-busting partnerships that are signatures of the program by connecting the concerns of communities to the decisions that allocate local and regional public investment dollars. Engagement brings meaning and relevance to sustainability goals across a broad spectrum of players; and it encourages local innovations in sustainable development through creative problem solving.
Transformative community engagement that leads to equitable outcomes will not be easy. Following many years of disinvestment and neglect, mistrust exists in many communities. Many institutions have not fully realized the benefit of collaboration and community partnerships, furthering the silo mentality. Meaningful engagement, whether at the local or regional level, will require innovative partnerships that are inclusive of voices that have been left behind while focusing on a shared vision for a prosperous future. Understanding that an intentional focus on community engagement can lead to transformative change, HUD has required that a minimum of 10 percent of grant budgets be committed to increase the engagement of historically marginalized communities in the planning process.1 As communities get ready to meet those measures, public agencies will need help. Local and regional planning organizations in particular may find this guide useful as they work to build new partnerships and relationships to develop a shared vision. This guide is intended to help deepen an understanding of the community engagement process and what it will take to create new ways of planning for a sustainable future.
by Danielle Bergstrom, Kalima Rose, Jillian Olinger, and Kip Holley