UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Empowerment and planning for healthy communities Rachwalski, Maurice


The objective of this thesis is to analyze the psychological dimensions of the concept of empowerment in planning for healthy communities, and evaluate the role of community planners in the practical application of this concept. A case study examines the use of a community-based organization (Collingwood Neighbourhood House - CNH) as a vehicle for empowering local citizens, and the role of the City of Vancouver and City planners in the development of the organization. A substantive literature review was undertaken. This identifies that empowerment is a dynamic process of personal and collective control, leading towards the development of a multi-dimensional participatory competence. This competence can be effectively achieved through involvement in community-based organizations which nurture and promote graduating levels of community participation for citizens. Empowerment also implies raising the consciousness of an individual, and perhaps an organization in relation to the processes that act to perpetuate powerlessness. The literature review also illustrates that contemporary democratic societies are elitist, and that planning processes within this paradigm can effectively retard the development of participatory competence. These planning processes also perpetuate the sense of powerlessness felt by many in democratic society by assuming that all citizens, at any given point in time, have the same degree of participatory competence. This approach sees those who do not participate as either satisfied that their needs are being met through the decisions of others or lacking the capability to fully participate in community decision making, and that the 'democratic system' will operate more efficiently without their involvement beyond periodic voting. It is concluded that the Collingwood Neighbourhood House can serve as a vehicle for empowering local citizens. It has developed policies and practices that provide members opportunities, at progressively greater levels of responsibility, to control the direction and activities of the organization, and in many respects the immediate community. The organization was established by local citizens, through the guidance of enlightened City planners; planners who recognized that the traditional planning processes initiated by the City perpetuated the denial of resources and the powerlessness of the community. The planning process initiated by the City cannot be described as empowering. The implications of empowerment and planning for healthy communities are discussed in relation to both perceived and real control over one's environment, and the basic rights inherent in a participatory democracy. It is concluded that participation in community activities, and particularly community planning processes, is a reciprocal process of improved self esteem, and a sense of community. It is recommended that community-based organizations receive greater support and recognition by local government and the planning field as mechanisms for connecting individuals to their immediate neighbourhoods and to the larger community through learned competency in community decision making.

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