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City Planning Case Study: Engagement Done Right

Editor’s note: The city of London, Ontario really did a great job creating their city’s long-term strategic plan (similar to what the City of Covington did locally in 2005).  With Plan Cincinnati already gathering dust (what happened to those citizen action teams?), we post this to remind Cincinnatians to expect more from our government engagement efforts.

Rethinking the Future of a City

Rethinking a city’s entire official plan is a once-in-a-career opportunity for many planners. Some never get the chance.

When the City of London, Ontario began the process four years ago — a complete rewrite of a plan originally approved in 1989 — its planning team set out to accomplish something few cities have imagined or tried: putting the topic on the public’s lips, making it a subject of wide discussion, and emerging with a clear consensus on a shared vision.

They began in uncharted waters. When they were done, they had completed the most successful public engagement process in Canadian municipal history, full of lessons about what other communities can make possible.

The Elephant in the Room

The first step was facing a reality London planner John Fleming called “the elephant in the room.” People don’t come to public meetings on a 20-year planning horizon for their city. They don’t relate to planning in that way. Holding traditional planning meetings at city hall sends a message that the content “must be bureaucratic, legalistic, or political in nature,” John has written.

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