Building community capacity: how collaborative planning is changing the culture of governance in Seattle

Kobler, Amber
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This research explores the theory on collaborative planning, capacity building and governance by examining a case study in Seattle, Washington. Throughout the 1980s, the City of Seattle experienced fits and starts with planning and growth management, as neighborhood groups often rose in opposition to City efforts. After the State of Washington passed its Growth Management Act in 1990 and neighborhood groups again opposed the new Comprehensive Plan developed to comply with the law, the City of Seattle tried a new tactic: collaborative neighborhood planning. Under this program, 38 neighborhoods created their own plans, designed to implement the Comprehensive Plan and tailor those goals to each community. The process was designed to be broadly inclusive and community-driven, educating both citizens and City staff and changing perceptions about how to work together. This initiative resulted in increased capacity at both the community and the government level, shifting the political culture towards one of governance, where City and citizens partner to enhance quality of place. However, it has not been without challenges. To sustain capacity, there must be strong leadership from decision-makers, an emphasis on accountability, and continuous resources to evaluate and improve the program. Even with these challenges, collaborative planning and capacity building processes offer the potential for cities to leverage community resources and better respond to complex contemporary issues.

citizen participation, collaborative planning, community capacity, governance capacity, neighborhood planning