Participatory Planning in Action!

Submitted by Gisela Mendez, Director of IPCo in Colima, Mexico.

Participatory planning! It’s more than just a fuzzy feeling. It’s a reciprocal learning process between citizens and their government through which ordinary people are encouraged to participate in the planning and development of public policy at the municipal level. The process is carefully planned and executed, and its findings produce Community Development Plans which lay out specific desired results. In Colima, we have had enormous amounts of success with these plans, and have used the to plan a number of significant projects.

In 2005-2006, the Colima City Council designed its first set of Community Development Plans, aimed at areas in need of development. The process was based on traditional planning techniques, but considered community participation for the first time. The 2009-2010 City Council took that plan and, in cooperation with the Colima Planning Institute (IPCo), improved it. The modified plan reinvented the role of community participation in the process of planning, design, implementation, and most importantly, in the approval of public policy decisions.


Photo by Caitlyn Purvis


For us, urban planning isn’t just a consultation based on needs and priorities, but a process of mutual learning. The empowerment of communities through projects is an ongoing process that incorporates visions, dreams, wishes, needs, priorities, and commitment from a community to improve shared public spaces. This is an exercise in citizenship building that neither begins nor ends with the urban planning process; it creates a forum where the community becomes the expert, and with the help of planners can address the concerns of daily life, creating a kind of shared governance.

With this vision as a guiding principle, IPCo took over the existing Plan for Community Development and instituted the following operational steps:

1) evaluate of the current plan for the area,

2) update analyses of the areas of study, and

3) devise a strategic plan based on the results of community participation workshops.

IPCo started by working directly with residents of the 30 residential developments that make up the eastern zone of Colima. It has been clear that the participation of the community in the development of its environment encourages and strengthens a feeling of belonging, pride, and community identity. Through neighbourhood meetings, workshops and activities, participants have begun to identify and value what makes up their community, all the while actively involving those who design the strategies of the development plan. The participation of the community in the workshops has provided an opportunity for residents to use their local knowledge to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their community. These workshops have produced actionable results for the eastern neighbourhoods in the form of Value Maps, Lists of Needs and Community Priorities, Wish Trees (through which residents create an ideal image or vision of the community), and a list of potential projects.

The plan also presents a series of harmonized strategies, concrete actions, and public construction projects that will improve life in the community and the quality of urban life in general. Our vision is that it will become a process that transcends the municipal political cycle and becomes an ongoing planning strategy for the short, medium, and long term.

In addition to keeping up to date geographical records of the economic, social, physical and environmental conditions, this new process will record the impact and effect in the community, as long as precise monitoring is continued. The process itself must be capable of adjusting to changed in environment, as much for community demographics as for municipal and federal government.

Through the development plan, we can now have processes that guide and drive community development of neighbourhoods. This plan, delivered by actors that take part in or promote strategies that involve the community, contributes to actions that lead to a final set of objectives:

  • building a more supportive society
  • strengthening local resources and skills
  • protecting and improving the environment
  • reinforcing local culture and heritage
  • bringing about the empowerment and participation of the community in social, economic, political, and cultural issues
  • highlighting and actualizing the assets of the community
  • striving for equality and social integration (equal access to services)

“The best way to govern is the listen to the people…we have an enormous responsibility, and we need your participation.”

– José Ignacio Peralta Sánchez, Mayor of Colima


About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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