Deindustrialization, redlining, urban renewal policies, mass incarceration, sudden population shifts: it is no simple task to redress the effects that communities have suffered from decades of disinvestment. The ecology resulting from a decline in resources, such as abandoned properties, under-education, neighborhood violence, unemployment, is not a result of any single privation, and neither can the reversal of such disinvestment be accomplished by a single person or entity.
Equitable transformation of a community is dependent on the agency of the members that live and work in that community. Affordable housing, living wage employment, quality education, recreation and retail, health and social services, transportation and infrastructure—all are made more powerful when a community is not merely a recipient, but an active participant in its development. Civic engagement brings both internal stakeholders and external stakeholders to a shared platform.
Ethical Redevelopment proposes developing an engagement framework that calls into question who does the work and with and for whom. As many organizations and institutions consider “engagement strategies” that may be more about informing a public—a one-way relationship—the willing investment of participants’ time, talents, and resources in a given place redefines the architectural, cultural, social, and economic landscape. By engaging with a multiplicity of people who share in the transparent negotiation and implementation of a vision, place-based work integrates a sense of social responsibility, neighborliness, and authenticity.
Engaged Participation is the development of authentic relationships with people who already believe in the place: locals embedded by proximity, those connected by a desire to contribute or commitment to a mission. The value of the relationship is in the intimacy, not in the duration. Engage for as long as it makes sense to engage. This intimacy sparks commitment to a vision, and the neighbors, staff, and visitors become participatory producers—more than “consumers”—by tapping into different access points to find themselves in the work. The work is for many, with many, and, ultimately, by many.
ENGAGED PARTICIPATION IN ACTION
Providing multiple access points is key to authentic community participation, and such points are often developed as a the result of key partnerships between stakeholders. Boston Creates, a year-long cultural planning process, partnered with artist collective Department of Play to explore the ways in which Bostonians engaged with arts and culture. This partnership connected urban planning and the lived experiences of Boston's communities to inform the cultural plan for the city by "[infusing] creativity, imagination, artistry and fun into a citywide planning process."
Take a moment to think about your community and the opportunities that exist within it. How can you, operating as a resident and a citizen, champion Engaged Participation?