Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Neighborhood Structures Encourage Citizen Participation

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Neighborhood Structures Encourage Citizen Participation

Article excerpt

Cities are learning that democratic governance means governing in participatory, deliberative, collaborative and inclusive ways.

Contemporary challenges have required more than simple management solutions to relieve the tensions around traditional government administration. The city-wide organization of neighborhoods has strengthened the ability of cities to respond to the needs of its citizens through structural inputs that are in place to support neighborhoods.

Among the benefits to cities of maintaining permanent neighborhood-level citizen structures are that neighborhood systems both gather input on policy decisions and embolden citizens to take action themselves The sharing of authority makes the job of the city easier and taps into greater human resource potential.

As opposed to temporary community engagement decision-making structures, such as participatory budgeting and visioning exercises, permanent neighborhood-level structures can tap into more resources over the long-term, having the potential to be reliable, consistent and streamlined.

Often times a city is divided up into neighborhood "districts" or "councils" to decentralize decisions to the micro level. City-designated neighborhoods may make planning choices and set priorities for themselves but resource allocation decisions are most often left to city decision makers.

For example, in Rochester, N.Y., a recurring neighborhood planning process for neighborhoods has been the principal mechanism through which a city-wide comprehensive plan is formed.

Each neighborhood is also called upon to implement the plan that they helped form. Under the Bureau of Neighborhood Initiatives, a Community Development Block Grant allows for six city staff and an annual budget for each neighborhood sector. The end result is that outcomes are citizen-driven and more than 80 percent of the action ideas in the original neighborhood plans have been implemented.

A similar design is found in the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), where neighborhood action plans have been at the center of resident directed decision-making. NRP staff oversee the implementation of more than 4,000 strategies and 1,500 contracts.

NRP directs tax revenue from downtown businesses to the city's 87 neighborhood organizations. In Minneapolis, the staffing and funding decisions are entirely made at the neighborhood level. …

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