Our society’s civic infrastructure is every bit as important as its physical infrastructure. Winston Churchill was correct: "We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us." Therefore, public participation is vital to the processes of community design, planning, and development.
Community change processes affect residents, first and foremost; they should be able to help shape such changes. Private sector businesses rely on multi-billion-dollar market studies to ascertain consumer desires, but local governments typically solicit public participation only through public hearings, of which many residents are often unaware..
Community involvement and citizen participation in planning may be more time- and resource-intensive than wholly “top-down” planning, but they offer the following significant benefits:
Successful public participation also often requires specialized group process techniques, such as the use of three-dimensional visuals and participatory activities. As the old proverb says, "Tell me I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand."
The Local Government Commission assists cities and counties in expanding and improving their public participation efforts. Specifically, trained LGC personnel are available to work with local governments on preparing customized tools for public participation, such as Community Image Surveys that convey individuals’ preferences. The LGC is also developing a presentation on compact development that will include a participatory process to help people understand some of he tradeoffs involved in new residential development
In 1995, the Local Government Commission developed a guidebook discussing techniques and case studies to improve participation in land use planning: