The Impact of the Sustainable Communities Initiative on Engagement and Collaboration in Planning: Experiences From Four U.S. Regions

Journal Article by Meghan Z. Gough, Jason Reece

Metropolitan Area Planning Council   (Boston)

In 2010 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded 74 Sustainable Communities Initiative Regional Planning Grant (SCI-RPG) program grants. The grants supported 3-year regional planning efforts that prioritized inclusive processes and addressed the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental protection. This article examines the experiences of four 2010 SCI-RPG grantees, including Boston's NNIP Partner Metropolitan Area Planning Council, investigating the impact of the SCI-RPG program on public engagement and collaboration. Using survey data, interviews, and document analysis from these regions, we consider how SCI-RPG helped to break down silos between jurisdictions and organizations, and how it increased representation of underserved populations in planning decisions. We find that SCI-RPG successfully created greater awareness of the connections between the “three Es” of sustainability, increased interjurisdictional and cross-section collaborations, and generated more effective public engagement efforts. However, we question the potential for plan implementation and continuation of these outcomes. We conclude with implications for planning and policy, and we offer recommendations for future federal large-scale planning programs.