How to Create a Plan That Puts People First

May, 2022 | by Laura Parete and Adam Tecza

We strive to plan sustainable, equitable, accessible, and desirable communities that improve the lives of those that live, work, and travel through the areas we serve. A major component of this process is ensuring a strong focus on a robust community engagement process to put people at the forefront.

This is our philosophy when approaching our planning pursuits, most recently on two award-winning North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) Emerging Centers projects: The Raritan Sustainable Economic Development Plan and the Keyport Complete Streets Policy and Implementation Plan. FHI Studio's Mobility & Land Use and Community Engagement professionals collaborated with clients and people in these communities to create visions for the future. These visions promote economic vitality, expanded employment opportunities, and attractive areas for people to walk, bike, drive, take the bus, and spend leisure time in their community.

Here is FHI Studio's four-part process for creating plans that put people first.

Make people part of the process.
It is vital to engage the people who live, work, and spend time in areas your team plans to improve. It is those who are familiar and local to the community who are experts, who know the issues and challenges that may not be as apparent from data, research, and analysis alone. Those same people within the community will also be the ones who will ultimately live with the outcome of the project.
Write plans about people, for people.
Plans aim to make improvements and achieve goals that benefit people. Therefore, it's imperative to write plans that make life easier, more efficient, and helpful to the communities they serve. People should be a pillar of every project and kept in mind throughout the entire process.
Communicate how planning benefits the community.
Planning benefits communities by improving transportation and public spaces and making areas more economically viable. Communicate with people transparently and frequently about the plans your team is developing for a community. Listen to the feedback that those who know the area best provide. Engaging people as part of the planning process helps them to be part of developing the future of their communities.
Plan for the future.
Communities thrive when they are set up for success. Planning for the short-term and long-term future helps promote economic vitality, public spaces for people to utilize, safer streets, and provides opportunities for communities to continue growing over time.

Raritan Sustainable Economic Development Plan

The Borough of Raritan sought to create a 10-year sustainable Economic Development Plan to help maintain and expand downtown employment and economic activity. The plan focuses on an economic, land-use, and multi-modal vision that can be implemented to support the community.

The Vision Plan “presents a people-centered approach to economic development, with the goal of advancing projects that support both existing and new residents. It calls for creating inclusive public spaces that welcome people of all ages and abilities; for new development that respects the community's character; and strengthening the Borough's relations with existing and future businesses,” according to the NJTPA project website.

FHI Studio led the planning and community engagement work for this initiative. The community-driven plan was the result of extensive virtual engagement, including a custom-built online workshop that allowed participants to share their visions for the downtown, virtual visual preference surveys, and asset mapping.

Keyport Complete Streets Plan

The Borough of Keyport sought to create a Complete Streets Policy and Implementation Plan to build a network of complete streets. The primary goal of the study was to develop a policy and plan that will help improve community and transportation safety, comfort, and accessibility for people of all ages and abilities.

The Keyport Complete Streets Plan conducted a demonstration project that was awarded the Monmouth County 2021 Planning Merit Award - Honorable Mention. This was the first demonstration project conducted in Monmouth County, New Jersey, on a County roadway. The project focused on a key intersection with high pedestrian traffic, roads, and the Henry Hudson Trail. The success of this project is attributed to working with people to develop solutions for improvements in their community.

These projects used our people-first approach to create successful outcomes for their respective communities. In the words of FHI Studio Project Manager, Adam Tecza, “These plans are a continuation of the great work we've done with NJTPA as part of their Emerging Center's program. The success of these plans comes from working closely with community members to identify bold yet practical solutions that make tangible improvements to people's quality of life.”

Interested in learning more?

Adam Tecza has led numerous multi-disciplinary teams in creating comprehensive plans, redevelopment plans, zoning ordinances, and urban design projects. His work emphasizes the value of culture, history, and economy of place as the foundation for bold yet viable proposals. Contact Adam to learn more about our people-focused project approach at