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Community Planning Priorities

  • Marko D. PetrovićEmail author
Living reference work entry



Considering there is no uniform and complete definition of the specific term “community planning priorities,” this chapter will provide separate clarifications of the phrases “community planning,” “community development,” “prioritization,” and “community” in order to accomplish the mission of making the meaning of the full syntagma. The UNESCO made one of the first and most holistic definitions of community development or community organization development, by explaining this phrase as “a generic term used to describe the processes by which local communities can raise their own standards of living. These processes include the organization or establishment of services, e.g. for social welfare, health protection, education, improvement of agriculture, development of small-scale industries” (UNESCO 1956). In addition, the United Nations defines community development as “a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems” (United Nations 2018).

On the other hand, community planning is interpreted as “a process whereby the public services in the area of a local authority are planned and provided after consultation and (ongoing) co-operation among all public bodies and with community bodies” (The Act of Community Planning, Advice Note 2, by the Scottish Government 2004). Moreover, Regional County Council of Devon (UK) made a comprehensive definition of community planning as “a way of giving local people the opportunity to create a shared vision for their area and identify priorities for action which are agreed by a wide range of people, organisations and groups” (Cave 2013, pp. 7–8). Furthermore, the community has been very broadly described “as a group or network of persons who are connected (objectively) to each other by relatively durable social relations that extend beyond immediate genealogical ties and who mutually define that relationship (subjectively) as important to their social identity and social practice” (James et al. 2012, p. 14). Finally, according to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2018), the term priority presents “something given or meriting attention before competing alternatives.” According to mentioned definitions above, it can be concluded that community planning priorities determinate and involve residents’ preferences, intentions, and organized actions toward present and future development, improvements, and well-being (economic, social, political, cultural, and/or environmental) in the local surroundings (both rural and urban).


All over the globe, local communities’ plans are facing different issues and concerns which produces an obligatory need for their internal, local organization. Understanding communities’ aspirations and prioritizing research goals should occur through well-organized and beneficial cooperation between residents, local authorities, local organizations, and scientists (Frasso et al. 2018). The communities provide “the essential social ‘glue’ between locality and inhabitants” (Richards and Hall 2000, p. 2), and even more, they represent “the essential link between the local and the global” (p. 3). Starting from the 1950s, many different segments of “community” could be identified (Hillery 1955; Rothman and Tropman 1987; Thompson and Kinne 1990). Urry (1995) has analyzed this term in detail (according to previous sources/references) and defined four distinctive aspects: the idea of community belonging to a specific topographic location, a same social system, a feeling of “togetherness,” and as an ideology, often hiding the influence relations which unavoidably underlie communities.

Generally observed, community planning priorities comprise of a public participatory and usually cooperating form of local planning and design in which various community members (so-called local stakeholders) contribute toward the design of the directions and local priorities, planned project implementations, and reevaluation of documented local planning policy. Local priorities seek to empower individuals and local groups with the skills they need to effect change within their communities. These skills are often created through the formation of social groups working for a mutual plan. Community developers must understand both how to work with individuals and groups, such as local associations and institutions. It is a logical “bottom-up” evolution of regional, rural, and urban planning in an era of diminishing public resources, increasing local burdens and responsibilities and public activism. It often promotes public and private partnership as a means to connect physical development activities in support of community-defined goals. In addition, it seeks community consensus for proposed allocations of scarce resources among rival demands. In more vigorous application, community members access a full range of planning tools, shaping and being shaped by shared understanding of a complex community information base; directly informing and guiding local plan content; persuading resulting development budgets, projects, and thus future infrastructure and land uses; as well as helping coordinate the work of overlapping jurisdictions, levels of government, internal and adjacent communities, and various providers (Hoch et al. 2000), such as private companies and public enterprises.

To realize the priorities of community planning measures taking shape at a range of scales, the following discussion presents a review of key global and national policy frameworks and priorities. The discussion highlights the importance of context and organization programs.

Frameworks on Community Planning Priorities

Key Issues

Several researchers explained the interinstitutional (Berry 1981; King, Feltey and Susel 1998; McGlasnan and Williams 2003 in Norton and Sadler 2006) and communicative (McComas 2001 in Norton and Sadler 2006) aspects of community planning practice. Planning preparation and participation in the community is an aspect of organizing process of local politics of interests (re)produced through organizing (Forester 1989). Collin et al. (1995) have underlined the fact that planning practice is “disjointed” from theory because the former is laden with politics that disallow the democratic promises of the latter. Moreover, for any local planning and making the priorities in the community, there is an essential need for well-organized phases or steps in order to accomplish local development goals. Those are:
  1. 1.

    The starting point, as the first step, comprises the following: Setting up of a preliminary work group; classification of local stakeholders that should be engaged in the preparation of a community planning; method of addressing and calling on other associates; strategy for gaining local political support; and information strategy.

  2. 2.

    The second phase includes managing structures’ positioning, i.e., participation of all stakeholders in the development; setting up a structural and administration organizations for the preparation of a community planning; and definition of guidelines for activities taken by a management structure.

  3. 3.

    The next is understanding communities’ issues by the following aspects: Demonstration of ideas, interests, and needs of all stakeholders; forming and publishing instruments for active engagement of the public analysis of needs and an evaluation of current resources; assessment of strengths and weaknesses of a present local services system; and identification of opportunities and threats, outlining trends of the local development.

  4. 4.

    The fourth step proposes visions and strategies for development comprising the next segments: Key underlying values that will be esteemed and observed in the process of a community planning preparation and its following implementation; direction in which local services will develop in future; priorities that is to be met; difficulties that will have to be overwhelmed; regional and supra-regional resources that can be used; and vision of local services development which is accepted by a majority of partners engaged in the community planning.

  5. 5.

    The next phase is the strategy for local services development, e.g., a plan of gradual steps and tasks to meet defined objectives and priorities; a system of monitoring the implementation of a community plan; preparation of the final version of community planning; submitting the text of a community plan to the public to comment on it; and approval of a community planning by a municipal council.

  6. 6.

    And finally, the implementation of the community plan by informing the public about achieved results; continuous identification and engagement of new partners; and instruments that enable to introduce changes in the original community planning (Žežula and Vasková 2009).


Moreover, positive results of the connections with NGOs or other companies supporting community development, as Hughes and Scheyvens (2018) wrote, can be a progressive way to improve interactions in the development area, providing that projects are informed through processes built on community planning priorities. The advanced community participation processes enable organizations to maintain strong links with communities that increase understanding of local priorities and foster results that are relevant and sustainable for the community. Moreover, the evidences of many meaningful and positive development processes already exist in the many local communities that demonstrate the success of alternative and community-led development initiatives (Maiava and King 2007; Meo-Sewabu and Walsh-Tapiata 2012). Several models of community infrastructure development or fundraising show the potential of such processes to gain community planning priorities and intentions. Identifying community-based procedures that already function well may establish resources for administrations to work jointly with communities to more successfully prioritize and identify new methods to disseminating more equitable results. Community planning priorities, development, and engagement are inseparably connected. Without operational community engagement, well-meaning attempts to indorse community well-being can miss their mark or work at cross intentions to the communities’ visions and priorities.

Public Documents: Official Tools for Implementing Community Planning Priorities

For the proper prediction of community planning priorities, there is a vital need to establish official community plans for further development. According to Department for Communities of the Northern Ireland (2015), community plans should identify various short-term/long-term priorities for community improvements. They have to perceive all aspects for well-being of the area and the locals. Furthermore, establishment of the community planning partnerships will develop and implement a shared plan for promoting the welfare of the community, improving cohesion and the life quality for the inhabitants. The community planning would be effective only with the partnerships of community, public and private bodies. In this regard, the main aims of community planning can be highlighted by ensuring that individuals and communities are directly involved in decision-making with public services that influence them and by focusing on the organizations’ commitment to work jointly with the aim to provide better public services (Cave 2013). Additionally, an organized method of community planning emphasizes the involvement of the local stakeholders, mutual negotiations, and achieving results supported by the majority of the participants (Žežula and Vasková 2009).

When it comes to the priorities of the community planning, an integrated form of partnership with local stakeholders could potentially offer many advantages. The partnerships in the local communities are not necessarily exclusive to an incorporated body, i.e., the corporate support services of the various public bodies comprising the community planning partnership could be drawn together on behalf of the teamwork (such as research, statistical information, support, administration, and procurement). Even more, many public enterprises, such as local establishments and health and voluntary sector, are already participating in community planning. This also includes travel guides, travel agencies, hospitality sector, environmental companies, and research centers. The authorities, as potentially main local community actors, should actively invite and encourage all public establishments to be involved in the community planning process, and the advantages of being included should be strongly highlighted.

In this respect, there will be welfares to the community in receiving services that are more closely related to their daily needs, but there will be benefits to organizations as well. On an individual level, potential interests of being involved include personal experience, practice and knowledge, and moreover a professional development. Locals’ engagement in other public bodies can be functional through different means (e.g., local plans and strategies; meetings and events; dealing with the local political, cultural or environmental issues; etc.) (The Act of Community Planning (Advice Note 2) by the Scottish Government 2004). According to the same document (Advice Note 5), one of the crucial roles in community planning priorities is the “effectiveness” of the community engagement. There are a large number of key, long-term steps presenting the effectiveness:
  • Determining which development work should be carried out in order to improve the communities’ representation

  • Sharing learned experiences in the practice of community engagement

  • Consenting roles and responsibilities in the areas of managed actions to support local development involving resources, staffing, training, and information exchange

  • Realizing that there is a number of ways to engage and include communities by finding “general” approach

  • Marking the existing levels of community activity, creating community profiles, conducting community needs assessments

  • Recognizing main obstacles to become involved with communities and elaborate how they need to be resolved

  • Making best use the resources of the voluntary sector (e.g., evolving and executing community engagement approaches, improving capacity-building activities, infrastructure development, etc.)

Moreover, community participation is required for sustainability goals of any development plan. When planning programs, make provision to build community capacity to manage projects, establish links with other organizations, and use a community organizing approach to design and manage community development projects (Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada 2018). Furthermore, the quoted Act of Community Planning (Advice Note 9) by the Scottish Government (2004) drew attention to the shared local targets in community planning: starting from the targets for neighborhood plans (including community safety, individuals’ lifestyles, local regeneration plans, etc.) through plans for communities of special interests (e.g., children, ethnic or religious minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, etc.) toward a shared target to individual agencies to agency-specific targets for each of these functions.

The “intervention models” from rural and urban community perspectives provide useful examples. These models are highly mixed in the way they theorize rural-urban connections, as well as in their emphasized theory about the strength and weakness of urbanization (Allen 2003). The rural planning perspective tends to focus on localized and discrete actions, which combine the following: decentralized water and sanitation, microcredit, land-based incomes, and environmental management. On the other hand, the urban perspective seeks the change of planning systems (transport and land use and land regularization and housing) and localized activities from an urban perspective (infrastructure and sanitation, health and pollution). In this respect, perspectives from the rural and urban communities’ point of views will be discussed in the next paragraphs.

Community Planning Priorities: Perspectives for the Rural Residents

Although community planning is well developed in the management of urban areas (mostly in developed countries), its use in rural communities is a fairly new manifestation (Hibbard and Lurie 2000), primarily as an attempt to limit urban sprawl (Esparza and Carruthers 2000). A segment unique to contemporary community planning is its application to rural areas. Formal planning processes constitute a new dimension in rural surroundings, while they are well established in the urban settings. Moreover, rural communities have remained relatively insular, making intercommunity collaboration somewhat unfamiliar (Hibbard and Lurie 2000; Sargent et al. 1991). Rural planning has required promotion of balanced development between urban and rural areas by responding a perceived “urban bias” in government programs and policies, e.g., by trying to limit rural-urban migration through supported rural production (such as rural industrialization programs and integrated rural development programs) (UNDP 2000). Furthermore, rural community planning requires the organized process of refining the quality of residents’ life and economic welfare of the locals in rural areas, often relatively isolated and sparsely populated areas. Rural development has traditionally centered on the exploitation of land-intensive natural resources, such as agriculture and forestry. The reform of rural society requires a more diversified countryside with developed rural infrastructure, increasing respect for sociocultural and ecological specificities. In this respect, the concept of integrated development provides rural societies with new forms and content, and the rural economy becomes a set of diverse activities in relation to available local resources (Fig. 1). Alternatives to employment in agriculture, depending on the specificities of local community, are seen in mostly complementary nonagricultural activities, especially in relation to manufacturing industry (e.g., organic production), services (e.g., agritourism, recreation, ecotourism, etc.), crafts, trade, culture, and other industrial and service activities (Demirović et al. 2018; Kremen et al. 2012; White 2012; Todorović 2007). At the same time, this will affect the rural community priorities development through so-called entrepreneurial small business, including various types of nonagricultural farm businesses, income from social transfers, commerce, rents, and income from permanent or seasonal employment in urban areas (e.g., Knickel and Renting 2000; Petrović et al. 2017, 2018; Renting et al. 2009; Wilson 2006).
Fig. 1

Local resources in rural communities (examples from Serbia). (Source: Made by author from the private photos collection (between 2013 and 2017))

The development of the nonagricultural economy, or the diversification of rural activities, has proven to be an appropriate instrument for increasing the quality of rural communities and providing additional sources of income. It is assumed that this concept can overcome some of the key problems of rural communities. These are, first of all, the reduction of unemployment and the absorption of labor surplus, the supplementation of household income, the accelerated growth of the local economy, and thus the reduction of poverty and deprivation in rural areas, which affect the improvement of the quality of life of rural communities and overcoming differences with urban areas (Bogdanov 2007). The need for rural communities to achieve their priorities from a wider viewpoint has created more attention on a broad range of progress goals rather than merely creating incentive for traditional businesses (e.g., agriculture). Education, entrepreneurship, and physical and social infrastructure all play a significant role in developing rural communities. Rural community planning is also characterized by its emphasis on locally formed economic development strategies. Contrary to urban settings, which have many similarities, rural areas are extremely distinguishing from one another, i.e., there are a variety of community planning approaches in the countryside used internationally. Rural community planning priorities essentially focus on actions for the development of areas outside the conventional cities’ economic systems. These actions are intended to further the economic and social development of rural communities, and they have historically been top-down from local or regional authorities, regional development agencies, NGOs, national governments, or international development organizations. Rural residents can also bring about endogenous initiatives for community development, and this is not restricted only to developing countries. Actually, numerous developed countries have very dynamic rural development programs (e.g., Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the UK, the USA), with the focus on finding ways to advance rural communities with the participation of residents themselves, so as to meet the required needs of the communities. The outsider may not recognize the specifics and circumstances dominant in the local area, so rural people themselves have the crucial part in contribution in their sustainable rural community development and local planning priorities (Moseley 2003).

Community Planning Priorities: Perspectives for the Urban Residents

Unlike organized rural planning, urban community planning is not a new model in most of developed countries. For instance, local governments in the USA and Canada have managed urban development through organized planning since the late nineteenth century (Beauregard 2001; Hoover 1928). Even today, urban communities all over the globe are strung together by various infrastructure and political processes (Rakow et al. 2003), making interinstitutional politics somewhat common. In response to a variety of environmental, political, and social concerns, an increasing number of state legislatures in the USA are enacting comprehensive community planning legislation, so-called Smart Growth (Norton and Sadler 2006). This model of planning began with the 1928 Standard City Planning Enabling Act that enabled local municipalities to “make, adopt, amend, extend, and add to a master regional plan for the physical development of its region” (Hoover 1928, pp. 49–50). To the middle of twentieth century, most of the urban communities were considered as dominantly closed societies and relatively unchanging structures, contrary to what was the case in nowadays. Urban communities are increasingly observed as generally adaptive and data-centric systems, characterized by active modifications, multifaceted interactions, and multidimensional effects (Fig. 2). Furthermore, the modern concept of so-called smart sustainable cities (Bibri 2018) is a brilliant model and example of how contemporary urban life faces an increasingly computerized and urbanized world. Most of the urban community planning priorities (even now) deal with many vital issues such as air, water, and soil pollution, safety, high real-estate prices, overcrowding, congestion, and traffic jams. Nevertheless, many activity examples demonstrate that local communities can face these issues more or less successfully. One of the tools is the knowledge about conservation and efficient use of resources, reducing copying costs by formalized local solutions in the urban setting, increasing autonomy through community actions, participating actively in the urban policy-making, conserving local natural resources and water supplies, and sharing the data that will be useful for the future initiatives.
Fig. 2

Urban communities and their activities (examples from Serbia and the USA). (Source: Made by author from the private photos collection (between 2015 and 2017))

By using well-prepared community plan, many daily and long-term problems can be reduced to an acceptable and sustainable level in urban societies. The question is: how should a well-prepared community plan look like? First of all, the plan is an outcome of negotiations among all urban stakeholders engaged in the process, and its implementation is based on a broad partnership in a community. In addition, it should support locals’ needs, suit local settings, and recognize targets and priorities of the community development. It also maps all public, private, and voluntary bodies and entities from the perspective of activities that help achieve targets that have been set. Moreover, the well-organized plan should incorporate a system of monitoring and evaluating the process and a system of reporting to the public needs (Žežula and Vasková 2009).

On January 1, 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at an UN Summit, officially came into force. One of the SDGs defined “Sustainable Cities and Communities” (see the Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable on UN’s website) (Fig. 3), which gives special importance and priority to this topic. Most of these targets should be realized by 2030, which sounds very promising and encouraging. The special targets of the Goal 11 include, among the other, the following actions in the urban settings:
  • Ensuring access for all to adequate, safe, and affordable housing

  • Providing access to sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations

  • Enhancing inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated, and sustainable human settlement planning and management

  • Reinforcing efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage

  • Reducing the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities

  • Providing universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green, and public spaces

  • Supporting positive economic, social, and environmental links between urban, peri-urban, and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning and so on (UN 2016).
    Fig. 3

    The “Sustainable Cities and Communities” Goal among the SDGs. (Source: From the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN 2016, by (author(s)/editor(s)/department name), © (2016) United Nations. Reprinted with the permission of the United Nations.)

Suggestions for Future Contributions

Finally, what should an organized community plan comprise? Ensuring realization of the communities’ priorities can maximize opportunities associated with future directions on where and how communities will progress. The potential answers are the following:
  • Combined explanation and an overview of existing local resources (e.g., in the sphere of health care, education, jobs, leisure, opportunities for voluntary work, possibilities for neighbor assistance)

  • Statistical, sociological, and demographic data (for instance, age structure of the population, birth rate and mortality rate, forecasts of demographic development)

  • A clarification and an analysis of aspirations that locals have; a future vision of development by identifying priorities and objectives

  • A timetable for the work progress and principles; a manner in which individual stakeholders at local level will be engaged in the development and implementation of a community plan – definition of responsibilities of stakeholders

  • A method of monitoring, assessment, and possibly modifying a local community plan (Žežula and Vasková 2009)

Generally observing, both rural and urban community planning process anywhere in the globe should ensure a well-established framework for creating local public services that are directly responding to the communities’ aspirations, needs, and prosperities. The basis of community planning priorities (Fig. 4) should contain four key elements:
  • Local population’s life quality needs to take care of the population’s well-being, as well as the continuous research on what the locals think and act about the current and future plans for community development in their surroundings

  • Visitors’ exchange should provide sharing of knowledge and experiences among (similar) communities, e.g., how to improve their local strategies and future local plans, dealing with the daily, long-term, and alarming issues; visitors can also provide cultural and social cohesion in the visited community, which may produce many benefits to both sides.

  • Local economic prosperity needs to include the assessment of work quality and the careers of those employed in the local economy branches, as well as the well-being of local corporations.

  • Ecological quality should demonstrate all positive and negative effects on the local environment, i.e., on nature, local culture, and heritage in the community setting.
    Fig. 4

    Proposed framework for the community planning priorities directions. (Source: original)

According to the findings and explanations provided above, it can be repeated and confirmed that community planning priorities can be defined as a combination of residents’ goals, aspirations, and planned activities with the aim to improve present condition of the local community to achieve five main goals:
  1. 1.

    Economic priorities (by providing new employment opportunities, increasing income, diversifying the local economy, and supporting local infrastructure, facility, and service improvements)

  2. 2.

    Social priorities (by creating a preferred image of the community and providing recreational facilities and opportunities for additional education for the community residents)

  3. 3.

    Political priorities (by supporting community-responsible local authorities, involving actively in local political events and meetings connected to short-term/long-term community issues and improvements; by participating in the local elections and supporting selected, community-care local leaders)

  4. 4.

    Cultural priorities (by sustaining local cultural events, encouraging pride in the community arts, crafts, and cultural expression, and preserving cultural heritage)

  5. 5.

    Environmental priorities (by justifying environmental protection and improvement, protecting local wildlife, and encouraging environmental education and awareness of the community members of the local natural values)


With the proper synchronization of these priorities, the planning of local communities can be highly practicable. These are the key propositions to start an initiative for the residents to actively participate in local community development. In this regard, the chapter provides graduate students with a good place to look up facts or to get a general overview of a community planning priorities pertaining to the possible development directions.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Geography Department, Geographical Institute “Jovan Cvijić”SASA (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts)BelgradeSerbia
  2. 2.Institute of Sport, Tourism and ServiceSouth Ural State UniversityChelyabinskRussian Federation

Section editors and affiliations

  • Dragan Nonic
    • 1
  1. 1.Chair of Forestry Economics and OrganisationUniversity of Belgrade - Faculty of ForestryBelgradeSerbia