Imagine Salem Planning Process

Mayor Kim Driscoll and City’s Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) commissioned the Imagine Salem process in fall of 2016. In November and December of that year, DPCD, in conjunction with urban planning consultants Utile and a working group of residents, business owners, and community leaders began the process in earnest.

Through all outreach methods—outlined below—Imagine Salem obtained input from more than 1,900 interactions with people.

“The people of Salem are what makes this city great. Our community’s vision should reflect their lives and experiences, and advance our collective hopes and dreams.”
— Mayor Kim Driscoll

Beyond the Traditional Public Process

The Imagine Salem process created low-barrier opportunities for anyone who lives, works and/or plays in Salem. The community was invited to partake in the conversation through a variety of civic engagement opportunities. The engagement opportunities were designed to promote the inclusion of members of the community who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, as inclusivity and equity are the cornerstones of Imagine Salem.


Working group

The City of Salem organized a working group of residents, business owners and community leaders. The composition of this group was intended to balance demographics and voices to get diverse input on the planning process.

The group held three meetings in late 2016, early 2017, and late in the summer of 2017. At the first meeting, the group discussed what they love about Salem, and the consultant team presented their initial analysis on existing conditions. The working group responded to both the form and substance of that analysis, and they gave recommendations on how the team should proceed.

At the second meeting, the consultants presented updates to their analysis, as well as a plan for the wider engagement process. The working group gave input in response to the strategies presented and suggested additional strategies the Imagine Salem team could employ.

In addition to these meetings, an engagement subcommittee formed. This subcommittee developed outreach strategies, including the on-the-ground engagement, its social media feeds and produced the plan’s logo. That group additionally helped craft the bilingual “Did You Know” cards.

At the third meeting the working group reviewed the draft report and finalized the draft vision statement and guiding principles.


Imagine Salem produced a number of activities that were played in schools, cafés, community meetings, and other locations around the city.

These included “circle cards,” on which participants recorded what they love about Salem on paper circles that could be combined and displayed.

With a different activity, participants marked places they love and places they would like to improve, stated words that come to mind when thinking of Salem, and shared their thoughts on housing, jobs, transportation, and more. Nearly 400 participant responses were recorded.

Did You Know Cards

Imagine Salem produced a series of bilingual post cards. These cards contained illuminating facts about Salem’s housing, employment, and transportation.

The cards served dual purposes, it was a marketing tool to get the work about Imagine Salem out on the street. The cards included the online information (website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). They also provided the community an opportunity to provide written feedback directly on the card which could then be returned to a box at several locations.

Did You Know cards were distributed at the train station, Salem State University, Salem Public Housing and at several different businesses including Planet Fitness, Laundromat at Boston/Bridge, Bagel World, Jaho, Derby Joe, Front Street, Gulu Gulu, and IHOP.


Citywide forum

In March of 2017, Imagine Salem held a citywide forum. More than 70 people attended the forum, which combined a presentation on existing conditions, group discussions, and an open house.

Attendees were asked what they love about Salem, and how they would improve Salem’s housing, employment, and transportation. The open house portion of the event allowed attendees to view the existing conditions data in depth, see responses to Imagine Salem’s bilingual online survey, and talk through the findings with the Imagine Salem team. Participants could place dots on a giant map showing where they live and work, and they could write what their top priority for Salem was on sticky notes placed on a large board.

The working group and citywide forum are traditional public processes in urban planning efforts. Imagine Salem went beyond the traditional process by deploying a number of on-the-ground engagement strategies.

Coffee Klatches

Community members, participants in the working group, and City staff led a series of “coffee klatches”—in-depth conversations with individuals and small groups.

The coffee klatch was an easy to administer and versatile activity that was facilitated by a few dozen community volunteers. The conversations took place in a variety of settings. For example, conversations took place with a YMCA group, a church group, in private homes over wine, by Historic Salem Inc., and at Bates Elementary School etc.

In these conversations, community members discussed what they love about Salem and how they want to improve the city in the future. The conversations were semi-structured and flexible enough to dig deep. Because of the community members involved, this unique and inclusive engagement activity gathered input from many people who typically would not be involved in a planning process.

Digital Campaign

Imagine Salem also included a digital outreach campaign. became a hub connecting the various parts of the planning process, as well as a repository for the analysis conducted for the plan.

The Imagine Salem team also used social media—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—to reach online audiences where they are, give updates on the plan, and collect feedback informally.

The website included links to a bilingual online survey and an interactive place-based, spatial survey. The bilingual survey asked a series of questions on the respondents’ feelings about Salem; their housing, employment, and transportation situation; how they would like to improve those aspects of the city; and other thoughts about the city. The survey generated nearly 1,200 responses. The place-based survey asked respondents to mark a place on the map that they love or a place they would like to see improved.