Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Elizabeth Strom


collaborative planning, collaborative rationality, participatory planning, public participation, voluntary community organizations


For this research project I used grounded theory methodology and qualitative research methods to examine how and why citizens participated in local community-based planning and land development entitlement processes, and learn about their experiences participating in those processes. I conceptualized the citizens' main concern as preserving the character of the place they consider their community. This research demonstrates that citizens participate in community-based planning and land development entitlement processes out of a concern for preserving the character of their communities. They define the character of their communities in terms of their geographic boundaries, history, traditions, people, lifestyle, and qualitative features including land uses, architecture, terrain, and environmental attributes. "Preserving Place" refers to citizens' efforts to maintain the character of their communities as they know and embrace them.

Citizens participate in collaborative community-based planning because they believe the process affords them an opportunity to set public policy that directly impacts their lives and their communities. Likewise, citizens participate in land development decision-making and entitlement processes in an effort to ensure that land use decisions are consistent with their community plan and preserve their community's character. Citizens form networks, such as voluntary community organizations, through which they organize their efforts and mentor each other to learn about complex local government land use processes and how to participate in them effectively. Through their network organizations citizens also marshal resources when necessary to mount formal legal actions in response to land development decisions they perceive as inconsistent with their community plan and their community's character.

Citizens who participate in local government land use processes are often pejoratively called "activists" and accused of being "anti-growth" or "NIMBY" (Not-In-My-Back-Yard). However, this research shows the main concern of citizens who participate in the community-based planning and other land use processes is not to oppose growth and development in their communities; but rather to plan for growth and development and ensure they occur in a way that respects and preserves what the citizens know as the character of the places they consider their communities.

I collected data from public records of community-based planning workshops and other land use decision-making processes that affected three communities in Hillsborough County, Florida between 1998 and 2011. I analyzed public record archives and interviewed 22 citizens, all of whom had participated in community-based planning or plan review processes and land development entitlement processes. The model that emerged from the data in this research demonstrates how significant the character of a community is to the people who embrace the community and consider it their home, and how their concern for preserving the character of their community motivates people to get involved in land use policies that affect them. The model further demonstrates the capacity of citizens to organize their efforts to defend and preserve their community's character.

This research contributes to the literature on citizen participation by providing an explanatory model that demonstrates how and why citizens participate in local government land use processes. This research can also be applied to practice to improve collaborative processes and help local government land use policy makers and land developers understand the motivations behind citizen participation in land use processes, and thus how to approach the resolution of conflicts among citizens, planners, local governments, private landowners and land development interests.