By Murtaza Baxamusa, CPI Research and Policy Director
Within planning theory, there is an unresolved debate regarding the significance of participatory processes in making public decisions. This is due to a deeper tension between the primacy of process versus the primacy of power. This article does not attempt to resolve this power-process tension but finds common ground to make participation more meaningful. The solution is to have a dynamic process in which the community could itself be a part of process design through rational deliberation. This self-determination is a critical component of community empowerment.
Community engagement that results not just in input on physical planning but in social empowerment is critical to serious planning for sustainable development. Since empowerment by definition addresses those demographics that have been disempowered by society, this article argues that community empowerment is a driver of social transformation. It is thus inextricably linked to community organizing, which is facilitated by coalition building among grassroots organizations. The community coalition does not exist in a power vacuum but in most cases where deeply entrenched interests have created a paradigm of value-free growth. This "growth coalition" has driven planning processes to emphasize the need for certainty and with it, disempowered participation in the planning process.