The long-term success of a development project is highly contingent upon the community engagement that went into the development process. Engaging with the project’s stakeholders is a valuable way to elicit feedback and shape the project into something that aligns with everyone’s (sometimes conflicting) visions. Doing so makes sure it doesn’t feel like you just came in and built whatever you wanted — you listened to people and created something that feels like a true part of the community.

We do extensive community engagement on every project we work on, but below are three notable examples of how the community engagement process shaped the development.

Northside – Spartanburg, South Carolina

On this project, officially named the Northside Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan, our team led charrettes and other engagement initiatives with a diverse group of stakeholders to ultimately develop a master implementation plan.

The planning process was rooted in resident-led engagement and open and honest discussions about the future of the district. Public input was gathered through resident surveys as well as a series of community planning forums and meetings to define goals, outcomes and strategies, and to build community consensus around a Northside master plan. We led a three-day intense planning charrette, where over 200 community residents and stakeholders provided insight and input on the master plan, and worked together to define implementation strategies. Conducting the project in this way ensured an outcome that came from the stakeholders, rather than one that was handed down to them.

Orange Avenue – Tallahassee, Florida

On the Corridor and Orange Ave. Apartments Transformation Plan, our team worked with stakeholders to provide a site plan specific to the Orange Avenue Apartment site as well as develop a vision for the corridor. Through six months of community engagement, we met with stakeholders multiple times to develop a plan and receive feedback.

Conversations were held with over 70 individuals to get a starting point for master planning, and then followed with research and site visits to look specifically at the site itself as well as the demographics of the area. Then workshops were held. Through visual preference surveys, we learned about style, scale and landscaping options. A “Locate, Place and Choose” mapping exercise helped us to understand what people wanted in the neighborhood and where they felt was the best location for each thing. We also had group discussions to glean what people wanted to see developed in the area and how it would impact their daily lives. From there, we took all of the information from each session and synthesized it into a master site plan and corridor study that was reflective of the community’s needs, wants and values.

North Downtown Athens – Athens, Georgia

Throughout the North Downtown Athens Planning Study process, of which the majority has taken place during the pandemic, we have worked to implement a variety of digital engagement efforts to reach people safely.

A project website was created to house important documents, presentations, photos and updates, and serve as a channel for community members to post comments or questions. We developed multiple online surveys on a variety of planning topics to safely receive community feedback. We also held virtual charrette sessions via Zoom on various topics with various presenters from the project team. This way people could interact with us safely, voice any feedback, and we could share our screen with our presentation. The sessions were recorded and available for viewing on YouTube afterward, and the videos and presentations were put on the website for the public to review.

Gaining the support of the community you are developing in can elevate your project, while failing to get their input can be a real source of friction. Plus, meaningful engagement is so much more than running a public meeting once or twice. It means reaching out to the community in all kinds of ways — in-person, online and more. Download our Community Engagement Checklist for a list of tools and methods that you can use to run great public engagement on your next project.



The information presented is based on JHP’s experience.