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Building Inclusive Communities

Building Inclusive Communities

How do we develop inclusive, engaged and robust communities?

A new book, Living Together: Towards Inclusive Communities, issues an evocative challenge on 'how to develop New Zealand as a great place to live'.

Editors Michelle Thompson-Fawcett and Claire Freeman have brought together experts in planning, community development, social policy and social sciences to explore some of the challenges, strategies and solutions facing community development.

Community is a term freely used by government, agencies, developers and others who want to evoke images of sharing and togetherness. Community involvement has become a requirement for many organisations and is an increasing element in local government practice.

What constitutes togetherness and how community involvement can be achieved in the planning process is very complex. The benefits of doing so include reduced conflict (and therefore speedier and better processes), better outcomes, and the building of social capacity.

Fundamental to the success of any community development initiative or process is recognising the diverse communities of interest and how the needs of specific groups can be met - whether migrants, the young, elderly, indigenous, online communities or another. These communities vary greatly in size, influence, geographic distribution, power and presence.

'Because the last two decades have seen a major transformation of New Zealand society, our processes of communication and decision-making are in even more need of an overhaul,' say Thompson-Fawcett and Freeman.

Importantly, the book provides tools for achieving strong communities, with strategies to empower their members and ensure they are heard. These include design-led participatory planning, building community consensus through impact assessment, and community empowerment.

The aim is to engender inclusive, participative and healthy interaction within and amongst diverse communities. This should be collaborative, holistic, contextual, adaptive, sensitive, reflective, expansive, democratically justifiable, deliberative, and future-oriented.

'A tall order - but these concepts are elementary for legitimising our interactive processes,' the editors conclude.

Michelle Thompson-Fawcett is Senior Lecturer in Planning and Environmental Management at the University of Otago. She worked in planning practice for ten years. With Claire Freeman, she co-edited Living Space: Towards sustainable settlements in New Zealand (Otago, 2003). Claire Freeman is Director of the Planning Programme, University of Otago. She has held lecturing posts at universities in Britain, South Africa and New Zealand. She was a planner for the Urban Wildlife Trust in Birmingham (UK).


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