NYC November Ballot Initiative: Create a Civic Engagement Commission and have Citywide Participatory Budgeting

A short highlight about a simple – and yet complex – question for NYC voters:  Do you want to establish a new engagement body, within city government, and a specific kind of outreach and participation – on a slice of the overall city government budget?

Here is the start of the ballot question:

Question # 2: Civic Engagement Commission

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Create a Civic Engagement Commission that would implement, no later than the City Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2020, a Citywide participatory budgeting program established by the Mayor to promote participation by City residents in making recommendations for projects in their communities;

A report by the New York City Charter Revision Commission covers this question and two other ballot questions for this fall.

The advocacy group Participatory Budgeting Project offers a summary and support the ballot initiative.  Unsurprisingly, there was a public hearing process about the ballot question proposal, including this local press coverage of a June public gathering.

We’ll find out how New York voters decide. But for now, should this kind of decision be left to voters? Is this a good way to use ballot initiatives to both set up a new piece of the city’s engagement approach AND to specify a particular area – the city budget – for a new form of engagement?

Citizens Academies and Civic Infrastructure

When we talk about infrastructure we are usually talking about things like roads and water pipes. But communities also need to be concerned about their “civic infrastructure.” A recent article by University of San Diego professor Keith Pezzoli defines civic infrastructure as “formal and informal institutional as well as sociocultural means of connectivity used in knowledge–action collaboration and networking.”

The William Penn Foundation suggests the concept of civic infrastructure links social and cultural capital in communities with built capital, in that public spaces in communities also can be understood to be an integral component of bringing people together and creating the kind of capacity for collective action that is what civic infrastructure is all about. A recent report by the foundation argues that “Civic infrastructure encompasses the physical spaces, buildings, and assets themselves, as well as the habits, traditions, management, and other social, political, and cultural processes that bring them to life—two realms that, together, constitute a whole.”

Building civic infrastructure requires a multi-pronged approach. It involves placing greater emphasis on public or civic spaces. It involves creating meaningful opportunities for civic dialogue and learning to take place. It involves creating opportunities for public work. It involves investing in civic institutions and efforts to build a strong community culture. It certainly involves work across the public, private, and non-for-profit sectors.

One way local governments have been working to build civic infrastructure is through offering citizens academies. Continue Reading

Reconnecting with the Queen City through the Charlotte City Council

Editor: Rita Venant is a student at Wake Forest University and reflects on her summer internship.

The Queen City is no longer a place I recognize. Growing up just 25 minutes from Uptown, the heart of the city, I have personally witnessed Charlotte’s rapid growth. I have seen the creation of the Light Rail, the construction of the BB&T ballpark, the expansion of University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and many more additions.

It was not until I went off to college at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem that I realized the positive development of Charlotte let alone truly appreciate her beauty. Because of my experiences in college–living in another city for the first time in my life that I was old enough to remember and spending a semester living and working in Washington, D.C. — I was eager to find a political and/or communications focused internship in Uptown for the summer. I am pleased to intern for at-large Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera this summer. Continue Reading

Social Street – A Hybrid Approach to Neighborhood Engagement

As we look to build community and solve problems together, we learn quickly that communication can be an asset or a challenge. Good communication can lead to dialog and understanding, while poor communication (or none at all) can be neutral or even damaging to relationships.

For communication nerds, the term “noise” is used to describe anything that interferes with proper reception of a message. Think about how you watch video. Noise can be an interruption in your Wifi, a weather event that disrupts the signal or even a talkative person who prevents you from hearing what’s said. Continue Reading

Dorothea Dix Park: A Park for Everyone

I’m glad to introduce Dan Parham of Neighborland as a guest blogger.

The City of Raleigh has embarked on a generational effort to create America’s next great public park. The opportunity to create a new public space of this size (308 acres) in the heart of Raleigh is unparalleled in the United States. The City of Raleigh is committed to making Dorothea Dix Park a park for everyone, a place of belonging for all individuals, families, and communities — of every economic level, background, ethnicity, race, religion, interest, and need. As Adrian Benepe from the Trust for Public Land has said, “Dorothea Dix Park is the most important and exciting park project in America today.”

Over the next year, the City is partnering with the Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy and world-renowned landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh to create a visionary Master Plan for the park. Creating an iconic, inclusive, and sustainable public space requires broad, inclusive, and highly participatory community engagement.

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Filling Vacant Seats on Fayetteville City Council: What is it really about?

Photo: Where Councilman Tyrone Williams sat until his May 2018 resignation. Credit: Paul Woolverton, The Fayetteville Observer

After several more media showdowns, Councilman Tyrone Williams officially resigned in a May 3rd letter, leaving a vacant seat in Fayetteville’s City Council.

“It is now clear to me that the facts of what happened don’t matter as much as perception,” said Williams in the letter.

In the letter Williams maintained his innocence, took shots at the media and various other community members. While all signs pointed to a dug in, trenched out, defiant stance toward resigning, to everyone’s surprise he threw in the towel, sparing the city council a long arduous process of removing him.

The council discussed the process for replacing him and sought applications to fill the seat.  I differ from many people who argue for what matters most in the who and how of filling this seat.

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Homeless “Helping” Response: Transaction or Relationship?

Earlier this month, I attended a professional conference in Portland, Oregon. I encountered many homeless people, so it made me think about my privileged role of flying to their city, having a safe hotel room, conducting my business and leaving. What can, or should, I do?

At the conference, I posted a request for how I could donate to a Portland organization that helps the homeless. It seemed like a decent thing to do. It would be a small way of acknowledging my connection to Portland, a city I have enjoyed visiting many times.

But a colleague from Idaho, Dr. Katherine Himes, offered a story that challenged my sentiments. Am I doing something just so I feel good? Is the transaction, arms-length donation what is really needed? Continue Reading

GreensboroStronger with Community Leadership

“We are speaking up for what we want—and what we don’t want—in our neighborhood”, stated Verna Torain, president of Cottage Grove Neighborhood Association, whose house was crushed by the tornado.








HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson was in her neighborhood on June 1 to kick off National Healthy Homes Month. Matthew Ammons and Michelle Miller, director and deputy director of HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes, joined Secretary Carson for the meeting with Ms. Torain, fellow neighborhood leader Almetta Tennie, hospital leaders, and Greensboro healthy housing advocates. Community leadership is rising to the challenge after an April natural disaster.

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