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Community Self-Assessment

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How do you as a planning commissioner make sure that your plan makes sense as a whole, and clearly guides decision-makers to choices that create a healthy, balanced community?

You may have a definite opinion about the positives and negatives of your community. Chances are, everyone in your community has an opinion too, and there may be some disparities among them. Undertaking a “community self-assessment exercise” will help you capture the information you need to begin reaching consensus and enable you to develop an effective plan that people will rely on, a plan that is more than a series of discrete, unrelated parts.

Some of you will be familiar with one or more of the following acronyms used to describe methods of community-based self-assessment:

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats),
LAND (Local Assets, Needs and Demands),
SWOON (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Obstacles and Needs), 
SWINE (Strengths, Weaknesses, Issues, Needs and Expectations), and
COW (Community Opportunity Workshop).

We’re not going to spend time on the fine distinctions among these techniques. The key point is that however you choose to spell it, this type of self-assessment exercise will equip you with a framework for gathering input about which features or programs in your city or town people view as most important, which of the them need improvement, and which are working just fine and should be left alone.

Two Simple Questions

We have found that there are two simple questions that will do a pretty good job of identifying what needs to be worked on in your community:

When Aunt Mary comes to town – where DO you take her?
When Aunt Mary comes to town – where DON’T you take her?

The answer to those questions will tell you exactly what needs attention. For those places you would take her to, consider what elements make them attractive. For those places you would avoid, consider why that’s the case and if there are lessons you can draw.

So … what does a self-assessment involve? There’s no one answer, and it will depend on what you as planning commissioners (if you’re taking the lead) think makes most sense for you community. But allow us to briefly discuss some things you might want to consider.

1. Use Maps to See Where Things Stand

Mapping is a valuable self-assessment tool, because it can help you see where your community can accommodate additional growth. If you have a geographic information system, this is the perfect application for it, but if you don’t, just get out your markers and some tracing paper and go to work. Superimpose your critical community services (water, sewer, roads, fire stations, schools, etc) on a map of your community to see where your infrastructure is currently located. Be sure to get the input of your engineer and/or public works director on these maps so you have a realistic picture of service areas. Your targeted growth areas should stand out as those areas that already have immediate access to services. Your secondary growth area occurs adjacent to existing service area, where services could be extended in a cost-effective manner.

If you don’t have the infrastructure that you need to support expected growth, then your map becomes a very important self-assessment tool to demonstrate that your community is not yet ready to grow, and (if you want growth) that you need to start planning for new infrastructure. …

End of excerpt

article continues with look at: 2. Make Some Comparisons; 3. Go For a Walk; 4. Take Some Photos; and 5. Use Colored Markers

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