October is National Community Planning Month! This month-long event focuses on the importance of community planning and its impact on regions like ours. For more than 20 years, the RTA Community Planning program has proudly provided technical assistance for local governments and intergovernmental organizations to address challenges in communities across northeastern Illinois. Through this program, the RTA helps municipalities increase walkability and sustainability in areas near transit stations and along transit corridors.
RTA’s Community Planning program is currently soliciting applications for planning and implementation projects from local governments and transit service boards throughout the region. Conducted jointly with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) Local Technical Assistance program, the call for projects is inviting submissions via an application portal through noon CDT on October 17, 2019.
Completing a plan and a vision for the future is the easy part. The biggest obstacle that municipalities often face is how to raise the financial and human capital to implement their plans’ recommendations. The last thing anyone wants is for plans to “sit on a shelf” and never become a reality.
On October 10th, CMAP hosted the Small Plans, Big Ideas Forum Series. The event featured a panel of experts that included Michael Horsting (RTA Planning Manager), Lydia Collins (IFF Development Associate), Kyle Wong (IFF Senior Financial Analyst), Julio Rodriguez (Northwest Side Community Development Corporation Executive Director), Bob Dean (Center for Neighborhood Technology CEO), and Tony Manno (CMAP Senior Planner). The following tips on implementation reflect their panel discussion.
What are some of the biggest challenges municipalities face with implementing a plan?
- Staff capacity: Many municipalities simply don’t have enough technical staff to take steps toward implementation. Some municipalities are stretched thin and must do more with less. Ever since the Great Recession, many local governments are still recovering to fill staff capacity.
- Funding: There’s simply not enough funding to realistically implement every recommendation of every plan. Governments have various priorities and due to limited funds, some needs—like implementing a plan—are not met.
- Momentum: Whether there is a staffing change or other projects become priority, losing momentum can be a real issue.
- The Community: Generational changes, ideals and paradigm shifts as well as demographic shifts sometimes occur without the knowledge of municipal staff and elected officials. It is very important to understand residents’ needs early on, so the changes made through implementation provides value to them.
How can you get the community more involved and engaged?
- Gain Interest Early: By gaining interest early on, a municipality can keep the project momentum going and maintain public interest. The community was involved during the planning process; now keep the public engaged with implementation. One strategy to keep momentum is to consider making the planning steering committee the implementation committee so their knowledge and enthusiasm remains part of the process.
- Listen: Don’t make residents listen to your ideas. Instead, municipal officials need to listen to residents from the beginning and be sure to respond to them during the public engagement processes. Show them that you haven’t forgotten them by circling back to them after promising to do so. Again, this can be done by creating an implementation committee that includes residents from the community.
Who can you partner with to help with implementation?
- Internal Agencies: If you’re a municipality, look to coordinate with departments within your municipality! Doing so will ensure your efforts have at the highest level of municipal coordination, especially when identifying opportunities to implement multiple initiatives in the same area at the same time.
- Local Agencies: Working with agencies that have services in your area—such as a transit agency—will ensure that your efforts will happen in a coordinated fashion and with agencies that can help you make informed decisions.
- Neighbors: Multi-jurisdictional partnerships in planning and implementation distributes the funds, tasks and activities needed to implement beyond the staff and budget of just one municipality. These partnerships create the possibility for sharing of funding sources. Working together at the planning level will bring comfort in working together to implementation activities, especially with a proposed development that may straddle a boundary.
- The RTA: Ours is a regional agency that can takes a broad, long-term perspective items. The RTA can sometimes tap into other agencies for resources—like funding—and can share the municipalities’ successes to help others in the region.