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May 2016 Featured Article
The Growing Importance of Neighborhood Planning
While most New Jersey municipalities recognize the value in updating their master plans, neighborhood planning is become increasingly important throughout the United States. Neighborhood plans are becoming more widely known for carrying a greater impact on the more immediate quality of life of a community. The Obama administration demonstrated this importance after recently organizing the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative with an emphasis on transforming neighborhoods. Following suit, foundations and federal departments, including U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are funding neighborhood planning efforts.
Master plans follow a comprehensive land use planning process that considers a wide range of topics and issues related to the growth and development of a community. They often look out over a planning horizon of 20-30 years. They consider background and analytic sections that support recommendations for, among other things, the future economic development, housing, recreation and open space, transportation and land use in an entire municipality and/or region. A plan is comprehensive in scope, and its goals and policies are intended to be supportive of one another. A comprehensive plan provides the basis for other plans, ordinances and other implementing documents that set forth more detailed direction regarding specific activities and requirements. All municipal plans and implementing ordinances are required by law to be consistent with this plan.
Through neighborhood plans, the value of land, buildings or public investment can be more directly protected and enhanced. The value of the neighborhood’s quality of life for residents, families and businesses can more easily become positively impacted. Community or government leaders, as well as professionals can effectively build and sustain value in neighborhoods.
The Wells Fargo Regional Foundation is a leader in funding neighborhood plans as well as their implementation. The Foundation’s planning grants support direct expenses that are essential to the planning process including dollars for planning consultants and/or staff, outreach and neighborhood organizing functions, and also community meetings, and advisory group development. Click here for information about planning funds, plan implementation financing or other aspects of the Foundation’s neighborhood planning program.
HUD promotes a similar initiative through the lens of revitalization. Referred to as Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants, this funding supports the development of comprehensive neighborhood revitalization plans focused on directing resources to address three core goals: housing, people and neighborhoods. To achieve these core goals, communities must develop and implement a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization strategy, or “transformation plan”. A transformation plan becomes the guiding document for revitalization of public and/or assisted housing units, while simultaneously directing the transformation of the surrounding neighborhood and positive outcomes for families. Click here for more information on these programs and the funds available.
As more foundations and agencies look to fund community development and redevelopment at a neighborhood scale, having a current neighborhood plan will become as important as a master plan. For municipalities looking to tackle housing, upgrading community facilities or improving economic opportunities, this path is The Role of AmeriCorps Programs in Municipal Improvement Projects
As community facilities age, many municipal governments are faced with tough fiscal decisions. These concerns can turn into opportunities for creating jobs and new pathways for youth entering the workforce. Increasingly, community development organizations, faith-based institutions and other non-profits are partnering with branches of AmeriCorps to place young adults into intensive service positions where they learn valuable work skills while also earning money for education.
The City of Camden is currently facing decades-long extreme urban water infrastructure challenges. As a solution, an innovative and dynamic partnership called the Camden Stormwater Management and Resource Training (SMART) Initiative was created in 2011. This community driven movement is protecting human health, improving conditions for economic development, improving water quality and enhancing the quality of life through the broad use of green and grey infrastructure techniques for stormwater management. Despite ongoing design solutions, a trained labor force was still needed to carry out many of Camden SMART’s projects.
In partnership with Camden, under the National Governor and Mayor’s Initiative, the Center for Family Services launched the PowerCorps Camden program in December 2015, with the intent to improve outcomes for opportunity youth and improve green infrastructure in the city. PowerCorps members are currently providing a local workforce that is committed to improving stormwater management, clean and green vacant lots, improving community space and parks for Camden's youth, and revitalizing public land in the city.
Each trainee receives extensive training in water quality, storm water management, green infrastructure and clean and green initiatives, as well as a living allowance, health insurance and childcare. Upon completion of the six month term of service, members join the PowerCorps alumni and receive transition support in order to assist with postsecondary education, continuing national service and/or securing meaningful work in career related fields.
This model is beginning to be replicated in communities across New Jersey. Funding from the Corporation for National and Community Services AmeriCorps programs help local organizations facilitate the recruitment, training and placing of AmeriCorps members to meet critical community needs. Municipal Services Authorities and Recreation Departments are a great way to introduce these initiatives. Because of AmeriCorps NJ, shore communities are able to move forward with critical projects like planting 40,000 American beach-grass plants at Island Beach State Park to protect the shoreline from beach erosion.
AmeriCorps programs can further a municipality’s ability to meet its needs in education, public safety, health and the environment. In Camden, PowerCorps members are playing a key role in maintaining over 53 green infrastructure installations, including 20 rain gardens, 10 city and county parks, 400 vacant lots and 5500 stormwater inlets that comprise the city’s network. It is not hard to imagine the potential of this momentum if it were tapped into by every municipality.
Published May 2016.