Planning master plans: Communities know best
By Mark Bellon
Community workshops are a vital part of creating a successful master plan. Since these plans guide the growth of communities and address often long-standing issues, getting residents engaged early in the process can create a community-driven vision that people can buy in to.
We recently put this into practice while developing a walkability master plan for a small community in Montana. The town was facing a public safety issue with their lack of safe pathways to schools and neighborhoods. This walkability plan includes new sidewalks and trails, as well as improvements to existing pedestrian facilities to make them practical and safe for public use.
As experts of their town, residents provide valuable information regarding how their infrastructure is used on a daily basis. To gather this information, we held open-design studio workshops to listen and better understand the community’s vision and priorities. At the first meeting we provided preliminary maps that participants could draw on to illustrate their ideas, preferences, needs, and goals, and provided a way for residents to write down comments for further review and follow-up.
After reviewing the public’s feedback, we held a second hands-on design session and presented initial findings. We encouraged the participants to provide more comments and engage in the planning process so we could get the full picture of their wants and needs. This back-and-forth process of sharing plans and receiving feedback shaped the plan to fit the community’s needs.
Gathering community input enabled us to create a master plan that included three phases: paths to be addressed immediately for public safety, trails and sidewalks used most during special events, and proposed pathways that would provide new routes. The plan’s enhanced connectivity will provide practical routes for community members and visitors to safely walk and bike throughout town.
A community-driven master plan ensures that the community members’ needs are met and that they are aware of future projects that will take place in years to come. Master planning is best when it’s a group effort and local residents participate in the process with us. We can’t see the full picture without their local expertise.
By investing in a master plan, the Town of St. Regis was better positioned to secure competitive grant funding due to the preparedness and consensus of solutions placed within the final plan. Based on implementation recommendations, IMEG secured grant funding for a priority project identified within the plan.