• Planning Livable Communities
  • Volume 19, Number 3
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga
 

Civic Infrastructure and Sustainable Regional Planning: Insights From the Sustainable Communities Initiative Regional Planning Grantees

Elizabeth A. Walsh
William J. Becker
Alexandra Judelsohn
Enjoli Hall
University at Buffalo


This article explores the potential of the federal government to support equitable, sustainable regional planning through coupled investments in civic infrastructure and infrastructure for transportation, housing, and environmental protection. Civic infrastructure is defined as “the invisible structures and processes through which the social contract is written and rewritten in communities” (Parr, 1993: 93). Civic engagement activities are the building blocks of civic infrastructure. If such activities are artfully designed and integrated into a larger process, they can build the capacity of diverse communities to self-organize, learn, and act in support of a shared regional vision. Drawing on the history of regional planning and the evolution of civic engagement, we make a case for the importance of investment in civic infrastructure to support socially just and sustainable regional planning. This article explores the current state of innovation in civic infrastructure, using data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI). This study classifies the civic engagement activities employed by all 74 SCI Regional Planning Grant recipients along the International Association for Public Participation spectrum of public participation. The breadth of this analysis is coupled with an indepth case study of the Buffalo-Niagara, New York region’s civic engagement process. Together, the analysis and case study reveal a wealth of innovative civic engagement strategies and provide a framework for implementing an inclusive regional civic engagement process. The study concludes that regional planning can couple investments in civic infrastructure with physical infrastructure to support more equitable and sustainable regional development.


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