Our Planning Methodology

For generations, the typical system of urban planning utilized a “Decide-Present-Defend” public engagement model that sidelined local residents in participatory decision-making. Somerville by Design is different: it directly involves residents in urban design and economic development decisions facing their neighborhood, early on and in a meaningful way. The Somerville by Design model is best described as “Outreach-Dialogue-Decide-Implement”. This new method for planning acknowledges that the best results usually occur when informed residents collaborate with public officials to establish a vision for their neighborhood’s future. That vision is created from the ground up, using a series of predictable and transparent steps:

  • Participants identify existing strengths and weaknesses of the neighborhood
  • Participants identify examples of future conditions that match their values
  • The design team produces a wide variety of design possibilities reflecting participant input
  • Designs are edited and critiqued by participants
  • Unsatisfactory concepts are deleted based on participant feedback
  • Additional rounds of participant review and critique are conducted until consensus is reached
  • Final recommendations are described in a plan document and illustrated using high-quality imagery

‘Somerville by Design’ takes SomerVision, the City’s Comprehensive Master Plan, to the neighborhood scale. It continues our tradition of civic engagement, and connects it with best practices in planning and urban design that have emerged over the last fifteen years. Communities all over the world have learned that urban design is an effective basis for public dialogue, because people know and care how places look, feel, and function. New technologies are helping government to “crowd-source” the collection of valuable information and the production of creative ideas. By documenting these ideas in a visual format, the City and its partners can build and maintain public enthusiasm for projects and programs that are consistent with SomerVision’s framework of conserving Somerville’s great blocks of traditional housing, enhance our funky squares and main streets, and transform under utilized areas on the southern and eastern edges of the city into new complete neighborhoods.


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