Introduction

The Rochester case study, which was the basis for the "Perspectives on Building Communities: Citizens, Organizations, and Intergovernmental Systems" course, consists of three interrelated stories: (1)the Neighbors Building Neighborhoods (NBN) planning process; (2) Renaissance 2010, the city's region-wide master plan; and (3) University Avenue, a road in a prominent section of Rochester that was transformed, through a partnership between the city and neighborhood residents and with the assistance of an intergovernmental grant, into the nation's first outdoor art museum.

 

Neighbors Building Neighborhoods (NBN)

Origins - NBN began in the early 1990s as a process designed to update Rochester's master plan while at the same time restoring waning citizen trust in government. The city's existing master plan was designed in the early 1960s, and was outdated by the early 1990s. Rochester needed a new plan that would support 21st century solutions. It also needed a planning process that would empower citizens and include them in the city's planning process in a direct way. The Department of Community Planning was assigned the task of moving both of these goals into motion.

 

NBN Structure: Sectors

One of the first steps taken by the Department of Community Planning was to develop a series of loose-leaf manuals designed to assist citizens in the process of organizing their new planning units, called sectors. The city carved 10 sectors from the existing 37 neighborhoods. Because NBN began as a citizen-driven planning process, sectors were permitted a great deal of latitude in organizing their business processes. Nevertheless, a core process across sectors is identifiable. At the outset of NBN, each sector established a planning committee that proposed a sector vision and, in most cases, established further committees and subcommittees. To ensure sector committee members were equipped with the skills necessary to build viable organizations and adequately develop action plans, the city developed the NBN "Institute" to train sector volunteers. In a further effort to empower sectors, the city contracted with Le Barbour Associates, a professional facilitation firm. Its role in the NBN planning process was to train city planners, as well as one volunteer resident from each sector, in the art of meeting and process facilitation.

 

Sector Output: Action Plans

The initial goal for sectors was to develop sector action plans outlining action steps. Implementation of action steps was not considered at this time. Each sector developed its own action plan to reflect issues of concern specific to its are all plans followed a similar format, based on a manual ("the cookbook") that guided sectors through the process. City agencies were responsible for reviewing and responding to NBN sector draft plans. Agency liaisons were assigned to each sector.

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Action Plan Implementation

When sectors completed their action plans, they turned their attention toward implementation. It was at this point in the NBN planning process that asset/resource mapping became important. In the cookbook, sectors were directed to implement their action steps by mobilizing community-based resources and assets with the assistance of residents, local merchants and businesses, area institutions, neighborhood organizations, and city and state agencies. Monitoring Progress - At the conclusion of the planning phase, Rochester's 10 sectors identified over 1,400 initiatives. To keep track of the stage each initiative's progress, a monitoring system and database (the Electronic Reporting System) were created. The monitoring system tracks "individual action steps and responsible parties, report[s] tasks and accomplishments," and measures "the progress of the entire NBN program." "The database can be used to: identify proposed and initiated community activities; track funds spent citywide or in specific quadrants; create a report for a target year by sectors, city departments, other responsible parties, relevant category and the city's key result areas."

 

NBN Success

By most accounts, implementation of NBN sector initiatives has been considerably successful. According to some sources, approximately 75 percent of the action steps identified by sectors were completed by the end of 1999. Other sources, however, believe the results were less successful. Perhaps more importantly than the number of initiatives identified by sectors that were implemented, NBN has restored some level of trust between Rochester residents and their government by engendering a community-wide dialogue.

 

Duplicating Success

NBN wasn't meant to be a one-time event. Rather, its initiators intended it to be a dynamic self-renewing process. NBN2, the next resident-driven planning stage, carried several important changes regarding time frames and plan reviews. The planning and implementation time frames were reduced to sustain volunteer participation and encourage progress. At the outset of NBN2, sectors were charged with the responsibility of reviewing their initial sector action plans to determine areas of success and identify possible improvements. This review involved measuring the number of successfully completed action steps. After this review was performed, sectors proceeded to update their original plans. As of the spring of 2002, NBN 2 had been completed was , and Rochester was in NBN 3.

 
Renaissance 2010

Origins

Rochester's original master plan was developed in 1964, and had by the 1980s become obsolete. A new plan-dubbed Rochester 2010-needed to be developed. With low levels of citizen trust in Rochester's government apparent, city officials sought to include citizens directly in the planning process. The new plan's development would be bottom-up, not top-down; citizen driven, not planner driven. Embodying this approach, NBN as a neighborhood planning process was the perfect tool for developing the city's new master plan. It was the original sector action plans that, along with the Mayor's Stewardship Council, "served as content" for Rochester 2010.

 

Content

The plan as adopted consists of 11 "renaissance campaigns" that are in turn grouped into three sub-themes. The "campaigns" are: involved citizens; educational excellence; health, safety, and responsibility; environmental stewardship; regional partnerships; economic vitality; quality service; tourism destination; healthy urban neighborhoods; center city; and arts and culture. The sub-themes are: responsibility, opportunity, and community. Each campaign consists of policies, goals strategies, and benchmarks, much the same as NBN sector action plans.

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University Avenue Redesign

Origins

When the city began this project, it intended to simply resurface University Avenue, and maybe add some new streetlamps and widen the road. In consultation with traffic engineer consultants, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) developed a proposal and submitted it to residents for review and feedback. DES officials thought the neighborhood would be pleased with its plan, but residents overwhelmingly rejected the city's intention to widen the road. Instead, residents lobbied for the creation of an "outdoor art museum," which they called "Artwalk." The colored and stamped cement walkway, complete with sculptures and decorative benches, would connect "cultural and educational institutions, artists' studios, merchants and entertainment venues" along a stretch of University Avenue, between the George Eastman House and the Memorial Art Gallery in the self-proclaimed "Neighborhood of the Arts section of Rochester." Funded through grants bearing the imprint of federal, state, and local agencies, Artwalk is the intergovernmental dimension to the Rochester case study.

 

Citizen Reactions to the City's Proposal

Shortly after the proposal was presented to residents, they formed spontaneously into an organization known as CURB, Committee for University Avenue Re-Build. CURB's approach was reactive and proactive; reactive in the sense that it wanted to stop the road-widening initiative, and proactive in the sense that it initiated a community dialogue, with the participation of DES, on the elements of University Avenue's nascent Artwalk. This two-pronged approach was supported by CURB with logical persuasion and data. On the reactive side, CURB presented sound arguments that widening the road would impact negatively on the community while at the same time failing to help reduce traffic congestion. On the proactive side, CURB argued Artwalk would strengthen the community's natural resources by connecting the area's cultural institutions in a pedestrian friendly manner. DES was swayed to adopt several of CURB's positions, including the Artwalk proposal, but it didn't agree to narrow the road.

Funding Artwalk: The Intergovernmental Challenge

Artwalk's initial estimated cost was $342,000. The City Council was willing to provide approximately one-third of the money from the Rochester city budget. Other sources of funding were necessary to fill in the gap. One funding source was the federal TEA-21 grant, which provides matching funds for streetscape development, historic preservation, traffic calming, and other transportation related activities. Approval required review by several agencies, including in this case the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) because of the road's situation in an historical district. SHPO provided the main opposition, objecting on the grounds that Artwalk challenged the integrity of the road's historical character. SHPO needed to be brought "on-board" or the city would become ineligible to receive certain types of federal funding in the future. After some haggling, SHPO removed itself from the debate and let other groups work out a solution. The adopted solution avoided using any SHPO funding for aspects of the project with which it disagreed. With a solution in hand, the grant was approved and construction on Artwalk began.

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Changes in City Officials and Staff Attitudes Toward Neighborhood Planning

Change is usually a difficult process. People learn how to perform tasks and get things done according to standard operating procedures. They tend to be resistant to acquiring new approaches. Government officials and agency staffers are no exception. Perhaps just the opposite, government and its employees are prototypically resistant to change, often mired in what the literature refers to as bureaucratic inertia - moving along one course at a certain pace without any desire to shift. NBN brought with it change for city officials and agency staffers. NBN was to be a new way of doing things around the city of Rochester, of conducting the city's business. Officials and staffers needed to adjust to this change.

 

Agency Roles

A primary component was how city agencies perceived their roles. They had to recognize that process, not just results, was important, and perhaps even critical. Agency staff roles are community centered, rather than job focused. Government at its best is customer driven. There is strong value in citizen participation. These adjustments, like most, didn't occur at any one event, but happened over time as part of a process.

 

Silo Vs. Comprehensive Planning

A second perceptual shift occurred in the city's approach to comprehensive planning. According to the traditional model of planning, referred to as the "silo" approach by officials in Rochester, agencies survey citizens for data, information, and input. Then priorities and goals are established, and tasks are assigned to individual agencies. Money flows up and down the system, but nothing goes across - aspects of the system that are related remain unconnected, outside of a unifying structure. Planning with such a model necessarily leads to government by functional area. Thus traditional systems are vertical. One commentator noted, "in a conference of planning, when you take all these data from the census and filter it out, all the housing stuff goes through the housing silo and it comes out the bottom as a summary of the vertical system, but it is not truly a comprehensive plan."

 

In contrast, the model of city planning now championed by Rochester's leadership is horizontal, cross systems planning, where connections between functional areas are recognized and bridged. When city officials recognized the silo approach wasn't holistic and led to unnecessary duplication, a planning paradigm shift began in Rochester.

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