Miami Dade County Community Forum

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Democratic Planning and the Public Voice: A Statement of Principles for Local Governments in South Florida. By Gregory Bush

Drafted by Gregory Bush: email:  
From the time of Thomas Jefferson’s Northwest Ordinance of 1785, land use planning has evolved at both the national and local levels in ways that have tested our federal system and our relationship to the land.   Our present condition of suburban sprawl and the increasing scarcity of land require clearly articulated principles and a coherent set of priorities to guide future development at the local level.

In order to promote better local land use, improvement of the general welfare, and more representative forms of civic engagement in planning efforts, the undersigned organizations believe that the following baseline set of principles should be followed by area governments.  Central elements should include impartial professional and scientific standards, broadly defined notions of stakeholders, and sensitivity towards public land, urban design, economic equity, and environmental conditions.

Planning must be transparent and democratic in order to build public confidence in the quality of local government and hope for a better future for all our residents.

1. Democratic planning should never rationalize or promote pre-determined results by special interest groups but build community consensus from maximum feasible participation of area residents.
2. The goal of the planning process should be to create a viable vision for long-term land use and include sensitivity to the historic character of neighborhoods, cultural and ethnic diversity, greater economic equity, sustainable environment and green design.
3. The public planning process should always be clearly defined and transparent, provide multiple public workshops and various forms of public input and public decision-making that are assessed and tracked through the entire planning process. Resident friendly meetings should be held in accessible venues, at convenient times for residents who work, take place on multiple occasions, with plenty of advanced notice. Meeting results should be published and readily available to the public in a variety of different media.  Special efforts should be made to include a wide diversity of opinion, including the elderly, young people, as well as gender and ethnically diverse populations.  
4. A comprehensive information data base should be developed early in the planning process for maximum impact on participants. A variety of organized public information outlets should be developed and updated in a timely manner through the web and other venues. Successful experiments in broadening public participation in other areas of the world should be implemented.  The voices of area residents should be captured, preserved and relayed to interested participants in a manner that increases awareness of local issues.  The information data base should address all aspects of the planning process including specific historical references to deed restrictions, and changing land use and zoning classifications.
5. A broad notion of stakeholders shall include non-contiguous residents (notably if the land in question is a regional asset), students, and involve include focus groups, social needs assessments, and other tools in assessing public opinion, notably within schools as well.   
6. Public land use and the public interest must be paramount considerations at all times, and should include enhancement of parks for public use, and adequate access to public space consistent with the stated goals of the growth management process. 
7. Economic criteria for redevelopment, including bond funding, must be derived from an open public process that views an improved standard of living for all as the central social goal.
8. A countywide Joint Democratic Planning Commission, set up by non-profits, governments, experts and non-professional residents, should periodically assess local planning efforts for their adherence to the above principles and others that may in their wisdom be added in the future.  

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