Neighbors Building Neighborhoods: A Critical Look at Citizen Participation in Rochester

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In the last several decades, there has been a shift away from the central planning model in America. Reactions from the grassroots have emerged as citizens strive to address urban needs independently of planning bodies. However, many would argue that this is not the answer either.

Planning at the level of urban administration currently coexists in tension with planning at the grassroots level. Planning from the top is attempting to be more attentive to needs in the neighborhoods, as citizens have begun to acquire the energy and resources to lobby for change. Oftentimes, government-grassroots partnerships are forged to exploit the capacities of both entities in planning endeavors. However, this leads to the question of how this tension creates opportunities for improvements of social conditions, whether it contributes to the larger vision of enlarging the political capacity of a society, and which is the appropriate body to make a plan and implement it.

A government-grassroots partnership was attempted in the City of Rochester, through the Neighbors Building Neighborhoods (NBN) program. The year 2006 marks the 13th year of the program. After 13 years of negotiations, consultation, community meetings, conflict, and lobbying, numerous milestones have been achieved. Through NBN, hundreds of neighborhood projects have come to fruition, while many others have broken ground. These projects include physical improvements, beautification projects, the construction of new schools and stores, better public services, and increased public safety measures. NBN also received awards for its successful neighborhood revitalization efforts, and is recognized as a model of best practices.

Many people in Rochester are happy with the achievements made through NBN. However, some believe that the process can be further modified for greater success. The recent election of a new mayor into the Rochester City administration has resulted in some uncertainty in the future of NBN ? will the process continue as it, be modified, or go down in history as a pet project of the previous administration? This thesis examines the NBN process to:

  1. document the NBN process in Rochester an example of government-initiated grassroots-planning action that other city planning organizations can refer to;
  2. place the era of NBN in the context of Rochester's history as a city of citizen action; and
  3. explore NBN as Rochester's solution to the problem of the appropriate bodies to make a plan and implement it.

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Cornell Department of City and Regional Planning - Kermit C. Parsons and Janice I. Parsons Scholarship ; Housing Development Board (Singapore) / Economic Development Board (Singapore) - Singapore Inc. Scholarship

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City Planning; Community Development; Asset Based Community Development; City of Rochester; Grassroots Planning; Urban Planning; William Johnson; Neighbors Building Neighborhoods; Neighborhood Planning; Participatory Planning


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