A People’s Plan
What is a People’s Plan? A People’s Plan is a living (adaptive), iterative container to hold and convey the expression of the rationalized intentions, aspirations of a community of place. It looks like a collection of maps and documents that records the assets, risks, issues, and strategies to move elements in place and time to celebrate what is beloved in community and address challenges and problems. A People’s Plan is especially relevant to communities who have not regularly participated in municipal general or specific planning due to structural discrimination and oppression. The strategies in a People’s Plan might include solution forms related to housing, infrastructure, landscape management, and land use in general. In the era of climate change People’s Plans will be more and more focused on addressing risks to resilience including sea level rise, extreme storm events, fires, famines and chronic stressors related to lack of affordable housing, economic opportunity, and mobility.
How Does a Community Make and Steward a People’s Plan? Developing a People’s Plan starts with visioning. Visioning is frequently the most difficult aspect of popular design (oftentimes due to regular disappointment, disenfranchisement, apathy, and resignment). There are many methods to develop an explicit, aligned, and collective vision. Visiting inspirational showcase sites in the region where similar problems have been solved and sharing stories of success from around the world can help stimulate ideation of what is possible. People’s Planning visioning must be inclusive and facilitation should seek to find alignment.
The next step in developing a People’s Plan is assessment. Assessment takes the longest time in the design process. Together, we gather an assessment of existing conditions - assets and problems. And we placed these on maps. Base maps of existing conditions need to be adapted to the orientation of landmarks in the community doing design. Assessment also involves “power mapping” to discover how decision-making and development typically occur in a region as well as providing a comprehensive stakeholder analysis. A thorough understanding of the jurisdiction and motivation of each stakeholder is critical in the People’s Planning process and frequently requires advocacy literacy training.
After assessment comes strategy. People’s Planning involves learning a mosaic of possible solutions that are tailor fit for the community and its issues. We always seek solutions or strategies that have multiple beneficial outcomes beyond just solving the problems such as food and water security, resilience, habitat, and beautification to name a few. We begin to place these strategies out onto the maps, matching them to the issues discovered before. We iterate through these steps, corresponding problems with solutions and enter all of this into a database where we begin to see something like a heatmap that, in a truly democratic way, starts to articulate the vision of the community. Once a strong pattern emerges, we move a set of strategies into a rationalization process where we determine the practicality and efficacy of strategies and begin to develop a plan to move forward. For some projects this looks like the hands of the community picking up shovels and building out small scale examples in the short term. These smaller projects can be learned from and replicated over time with little or no outside input. For larger and more complex projects, it might look like multi-stakeholder collaboration where biddable specs are sought for further development. In these cases the community plays the role of self-advocacy to see that the People’s Plan is honored. It is important to note that the People's Plan is a living design, it is constantly iterated through and updated with the current vision, goals, and trajectory of the community.
Finally a preliminary timeline is developed for the implementation of the strategies to begin to realize the vision articulated in the People’s Plan. The timeline takes the strategies and organizes them by various characteristics, including time and resources. Grouping strategies into “project categories” enables certain local organizations (identified in assessment) to take stewardship or ownership of those strategies. Timeline development involves measuring the efficacy and impact of proposed strategies and prioritizing those that create the greatest impact for the least amount of change. Resource allocation budgets and pro formas are developed and matched with strategies to form resource needs plans that can be used to seek funding or support. Implementing initial strategies/projects that share any or all of the following characteristics is important:
● Site control
● Low cost
● Measurable beneficial impact
Celebrating the expression of community intent made manifest in place can be leveraged to enroll more individuals into the People’s Planning process. Once artifacts have been built they must be assessed and leveraged to create movement and momentum to implement additional solutions described by the People’s Plan.
Permaculture Design and a People’s Plan Permaculture is defined as an ecological design system rooted in indigenous wisdom to elevate ecosystem knowledge while meeting human needs. Permaculture design influences the development of a People’s Plan. To the extent that the community developing the plan is not ecoliterate or oriented to systems thinking, frequently a capacity building training will be advised so the People’s Plan reflects the following common or defining characteristics of permaculture design:
● Ethical boundaries - Permaculture design has an explicit set of ethics that emphasize care of people (all people, not just some), care of earth, and voluntary limits to consumption. These ethics act as boundaries to action (a filter for appropriate strategies) to ensure “permanent” (long standing / enduring) culture. The strategies developed in People’s Planning will be critically assessed by the community for how they meet human needs (care of people), while enhancing biodiversity (care of earth), and demonstrating equity or avoiding cultural norms of disproportionate wealth hoarding.
● Stacked or integrated functions - Strategies are assessed and selected for their ability to meet multiple objectives through one action. Systems literacy reveals how, for example, clearing pioneering-plant carbon fuel-load for fire mitigation can also yield materials for erosion control which simultaneously opens the understory for more plant and animal diversity. This concurrently reduces transpiration and creates more riparian humidity to further reduce fire risk and produce conditions conducive to growing productive, edible vegetation to address food insecurity. Such clearing could also be done in a vocational training setting creating job opportunities for youth in the community. The prerequisite for analyzing which strategies have this “stacked” characteristic is a certain threshold of ‘ecoliteracy’ or a literacy of how things relate to each other and are connected. ‘Stacked benefit’ strategies can be extraordinarily high leverage because of possible economic and material efficiencies.
● Pattern to details - Permaculture encourages designers to look at fitting elements and strategies into a pattern first and then calculating the details and specifications. For People’s Planning in the context of sea level rise and coastal adaptation resilience planning, the pattern of the watershed is natural boundary unit to place and organize strategies. The repeating themes or patterns of strategies at each section of the transect of the watershed will be largely self-similar. This enables the community to quickly develop a set of replicable solutions - adapted to site specific conditions - and confidently place them in the appropriate locations within the People’s Plan.
● Small and slow solutions - Permaculture emphasizes, by principle, achieving scale from collections of smaller solutions. Strategies that solve problems which can be implemented at a human scale (even not augmented by equipment where possible) are prioritized in a People’s Plan so that initial implementation of projects can be done, ideally, with simple labor and hand tools - making it accessible to nearly all to partake.
● Diversity and redundancy - Permaculture design stresses embracing multiple options to solve problems. Whereas ‘business as usual’ design tends to fully discount resilience, permaculture finds value in planned redundancy and avoids the risk of “over-engineering” by starting with lower cost small and slow solutions.
How A Community Uses a People’s Plan
“Planning is best done in advance” - Anonymous
Having a People’s Plan does not mean that all the community’s desires will be implemented in the near term. However, a rationalized set of elements and strategies is a starting point for interacting with large asset owners, municipalities, and other stakeholders. A process in place to continue planning encourages community organizing which can lead to greater social cohesion, a leading indicator for resilience. In this uncertain era of climate change, certain events or disasters will likely occur with increased periodicity which can have the effect of opening the field for ‘new’ ideas. If the community has a living People’s Plan, once a massive earthquake hits, for example, it can then advocate for recovering and rebuilding in ways consistent with the ‘already vetted’ rationalized strategies placed in the plan.