Including Voices of the Excluded: Lessons from Buffalo, NY

This chapter examines two community development case studies related to social inclusion and exclusion in the public participation process. Each focuses on dimensions of public participation in community development organizations and processes. The first case study examines the role of public participation in the governance of community-based housing organizations in Buffalo, NY. Here, public participation is examined in relation to organizational autonomy, patronage politics and bureaucratic structures. This case study illustrates how grassroots control of community-based housing organizations is reduced by institutional constraints placed on community development activities. The second case study examines a neighborhood planning project in Depew, NY (an industrial suburb of Buffalo). The scope and impact of public participation is explored in the context of planning techniques applied to neighborhood revitalization efforts in Depew. Competing interests among residents, business and local government are explored. This case study focuses on the manner in which university-based consultants working on community development projects approach resident empowerment. Constraints on achieving full participation due to limited capacity in the public sector are discussed. Combined, the two case studies highlight the barriers to expanding the voice of disenfranchised groups in the governance of grassroots organizations and the planning of neighborhood development projects. Lessons are drawn from these case studies to outline strategies for expanding the scope of public participation in community development activities, particularly in relation to the role of disadvantaged groups in grassroots decision-making.