My policy analysis concerns a redevelopment project in Grafton, Massachusetts, a once rural mill town on the Blackstone River that is now a suburb to Worcester and to the 495 corridor. It is a very special place, and also very representative of where development in this country is going- towards ever reaching residential sprawl. I chose this project because I believe that we will eventually have to reverse our current planning trajectory. I also believe that reinvesting in dense, multi-use development is the cornerstone of building sustainable and equitable communities. Thank Steve Bishop and Carmen Sirianni, incredible assets to my inquiry
First, discuss the redevelopment project in the context of south Grafton’s history and describe how public participation can improve outcomes for the project I’m going to talk about opportunities to expand community involvement through outreach, participatory planning, and engaging citizens in public work And Finally, I’ll outline some recommendations that will improve communication between stakeholders and empower residents to take responsibility for revitalizing their own neighborhood.
Fisherville and Farnusmville in South Grafton are working class New England mill villages, with a mix of multi-family houses, churches, and businesses. South Grafton is home to key cultural markers for Graftonites: the community house, the Polish National Home Association, and of course, the mills. In 1999, the Fisherville Mill burned to the ground. Last year, the public library closed and the Credit Union plans to shut its doors this year. Degraded housing from absentee landlords blight the neighborhood. Walking through, one can feel the cracked sidewalks underfoot and see see how the road and parking lots blend together into undifferentiated concrete. Redevelopment began several years ago through state investment in rehabilitation of the Fisherville Mill. The site was then re-zoned as a 40R Smart Growth Zoning Overlay District , which allows dense, mixed-use and mixed-income development. Remediation and clean-up on the site began this year.
The proposed streetscape project would link the investment in the Fisherville mill site to the rest of the neighborhood, with a new park, new trees, ornamental light poles, a bike lane, and new sidewalks Additionally, mixed use zoning would restore development patterns that are more characteristic of historic mill villages and encourage private investment
So that sounds great, right? Why should the public be involved in a project that promotes walking, affordable housing, and beautification? This isn’t about resisting urban renewal or the cross-Bronx expressway. And how could public participation possibly improve outcomes of building a park and sidewalks? First, the neighborhood is eager to see change, but many home owners are suspicious that zoning changes will adversely affect their properties. Second, even though Grafton has a Town Meeting governance system, there are barriers to broad and authentic dialogue around planning and development. Productive discourse doesn’t often occur at Town Meeting or with the Planning Board. Third, the project needs public support, which is necessary for Town Meeting to pass the proposed zoning changes
The streetscape committee and the planning department have an opportunity to use community engagement and collaborative governance to address these challenges. By engaging the community, unheard voices are brought to the table in a way that can’t be done through traditional public dialogues. Citizens can see themselves as collaborators with public servants to forward a common vision, and are empowered to say no to unwanted development.
I drew from community planning and civic engagement literature to define the criteria for which I will evaluate three policy options to create empowered public participation in the streetscape project. First, empowered participation must include community knowledge and preferences. The process should bring in more diverse voices, particularly renters and home owners from South Grafton. Second, the policy must be seen as fair by those directly affected Finally, empowered participation demands accountable autonomy from residents. Accountable autonomy is a fancy way of saying that residents have responsibility in problem solving and implementation. In a system of accountable autonomy, residents take responsibility for weighing policy options and prioritizing particular actions. Municipal staff can share professional knowledge to assist citizens in making well-informed decisions, but residents are the deciders.
My three chosen policy options to forward empowered participation are information sharing and outreach, collaborative planning, and co-production of public goods.
In the first option, the Town of Grafton could foster informed participation through outreach to residents and community organizations. Informational meetings have the potential to bring in a broad spectrum of the public. Seeing the project represented by committee members who are also South Grafton residents will strengthen the project's legitimacy and improve its chance of Town Meeting passage. Streetscape committee members are already planning a newsletter to help citizens understand the stages of the project and frame the project with neighborhood values.
In the second option, the Streetscape committee could increase community knowledge and legitimacy by including more residents in the planning process. Such a process would require the Streetscape Committee to link the project with broader redevelopment goals. Committee members and municipal staff would also need to redefine the role of residents: Rather than informed Town Meeting voters, they should be seen as co-planners with a shared responsibility in creating the rules that govern development.
In the third option, the Town of Grafton could actively create avenues for citizens to be co-laborers in planning and implementing new development. The Streetscape Committee could work in partnership with the Planning Department and the Community Preservation Commission to create matched mini-grants for residents interested in developing community projects. Matched mini-grants were central to recent efforts to engage neighborhoods in community planning in Seattle. Seattle’s Neighborhood Matching Fund was a catalyst for neighborhood tool sharing, weatherization efforts, tree planting, and cultural education projects. The Matching Fund helped residents leverage community assets and begin solving neighborhood projects through civic networks. This option fulfills all three criteria for fostering empowered participation, but also requires the most institutional collaboration and change. Municipal staff and offices would have to re-conceive their professional roles and begin to treat residents as colleagues, not clients.
The first option provides a practical and politically feasible choice within the Streetscape committee’s current framework and the norms of Grafton town committees. Newsletters and educational outreach would increase resident knowledge and reduce the power of contrarian voices. However, information sharing does not require that residents contribute to implementation The second option is also practical and fits a current policy window to examine the Town’s zoning by-laws through a Master Plan that is five years overdue for review. The Streetscape committee could take the lead in mobilizing residents for this process. The third option provides the most innovative approach and offers genuine community input and citizen accountability. However, the institutional investment required to support such an initiative makes it less politically feasible.
With outreach from the Streetscape committee, many residents will gain a greater understanding of the benefits of the project. But neighborhood blight can’t be solved by one committee or municipal department. In addition to implementing option one, the Streetscape committee, the Grafton planning board, and the planning department should initiate a community planning process under the auspices of reviewing the town’s Master Plan. Instead of hiring outside facilitators, the town should use local leadership from the Community Preservation Commission, the Affordable Housing Trust and the Grafton Land Trust, among others, to facilitate neighborhood-specific conversations about community development. Part of neighborhood planning would include matched mini-grants implemented by community members that forward goals in the Master Plan. In this way, co-production through matched mini-grants will keep both the town and residents accountable to the goals outlined in the Master Plan.
Bringing more people into community planning can shift development processes from adversarial bargaining to collaboration between many stakeholders. Such a process would not only improve zoning, but give citizens the skills and sense of ownership to support sustainable development The Town of Grafton should open more participatory avenues for citizens to be co-laborers in planning and implementation. In addition to being good citizens and neighbors, we have to do real work, together, to preserve and revitalize South Grafton
Streetscape Policy Brief
The Fisherville Farnumsville Streetscape Project: Opportunities for Civic Engagement and Collaborative Governance
Overview <ul><li>South Grafton development </li></ul><ul><li>Public participation in Planning and development </li></ul><ul><li>Opportunities to Expand community involvement </li></ul><ul><li>Recommendations </li></ul>
Fisherville and Farnumsville <ul><li>Fisherville Mill Fire </li></ul><ul><li>Absentee landlords, degraded sidewalks </li></ul><ul><li>40R Smart Growth Overlay District and Rehab Funds </li></ul>
The Streetscape Project <ul><li>New park, streetscape improvements: trees, bike lane, sidewalks </li></ul><ul><li>Changing zoning to mimic historic mill village development </li></ul>
The Necessity of Public Participation <ul><li>Neighborhood disinvestment causes suspicion of zoning changes </li></ul><ul><li>Governance system lacks nuanced avenues for community engagement in planning </li></ul><ul><li>Public support necessary for Town Meeting </li></ul>
From Confrontation to Collaboration <ul><li>Community-engaged planning can: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Include unheard voices in community development </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Foster a sense of citizen ownership </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Prevent unwanted development </li></ul></ul>
Criteria to Evaluate Empowered Participation <ul><li>Community knowledge and preferences </li></ul><ul><li>Fairness and legitimacy </li></ul><ul><li>Accountable autonomy </li></ul>
Options for Empowered Participation <ul><ul><li>Information sharing and outreach </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Collaborative planning </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Co-Production of public goods </li></ul></ul>
Option 1: Information Sharing, Outreach, and Education <ul><li>Outreach through existing Fisherville and Farnumsville Streetscape Committee </li></ul><ul><li>Streetscape presentation for local organizations </li></ul>
Option 2: Collaborative Planning <ul><ul><li>Include more citizens in visioning and planning process for South Grafton redevelopment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Facilitate a public planning series on community issues to inform master plan Changes </li></ul></ul>
Option 3: Citizen Capacity Building in South Grafton <ul><ul><li>Provide staff assistance for resident-led projects: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Farmer’s market, community gardens, Green initiatives </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Promote ownership and volunteerism through matched mini-grants </li></ul></ul>
Weighing Options Information Sharing Co-Planning Co-Production Community knowledge and preferences maybe yes yes Fairness and Legitimacy yes yes yes Empowered Participation no maybe yes
Informing Citizens, Reviewing the Master Plan, Funding Neighborhood Initiatives <ul><li>Outreach and Education </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Newsletter and presentations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>relational approach to building support </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Focus on Local ownership of master plan </li></ul><ul><ul><li>cross-committee involvement in revising Plan </li></ul></ul><ul><li>matched mini-grants and neighborhood initiatives to advance goals of Master Plan </li></ul>
Broad Participation Sustainable Communities <ul><li>Broad public participation can improve outcomes in community planning </li></ul><ul><li>All residents have a role in preserving and revitalizing Grafton </li></ul>