Rising income inequality is a growing concern in the United States, undermining economic mobility and civic trust. A majority of Americans believe income inequality is a significant problem that needs policy solutions, but what if the continued widening gap between the haves and the have nots restricts the ability of citizens to propose remedies? Income inequality at local levels may weaken citizens belief and engagement in political institutions and undermine one of the hallmarks of American democracy – citizen participation.
In a research article recently published in the American Review of Public Administration, I addressed those concerns using a survey of small and mid-sized American cities to see how changes in income inequality within those communities impacted whether citizens participate in decision making with several government departments (policy, city and parks, economic development, budgeting, and the mayor).
I rolled into Aspen, Colorado in May 2015, my Civic coupe packed to the ceiling with my personal belongings. When I stepped outside to breathe in my new home, the mountain air felt cool and refreshing.
Among the goals and activities for the Academy were: “acquainting participants with the programs and problems of the community; stimulating their interest in community activities and encouraging their active participation; educate them about wide variety of community resources; help them connect with one another; and giving participants valuable personal leadership tools….”
Editor’s Note: This comes from the blog of the IBM Center for The Business of Government. Drawing from the book, New Power (by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms), the premise is that “Participation needs to be much more than a website that allows you to point out occasional potholes in the street; it needs to be a constant and compelling experience that keeps people working together on the things that matter.” In their view, “The goal of new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”
What are the goals of civic engagement?
What different models exist?
What is a real-life example of a pioneer in engagement? The example of four initiatives in New York City show the pioneering spirit.
What could hold back or expand engagement initiatives?
This post is written by guest blogger Kenneth Brown, City of Charlotte Social Media Manager. To learn more about Kenneth, find his short bio at the end of this post.
Facebook recently announced a series of updates to its platform to improve the quality and trustworthiness of content that filters into our feeds. The company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, said the updates are a part of the company’s goal to make sure Facebook is a valued asset in our society. The Facebook post reads in part:
People consistently tell us they want to see more local news on Facebook. Local news helps us understand the issues that matter in our communities and affect our lives. Research suggests that reading local news is directly correlated with civic engagement. People who know what’s happening around them are more likely to get involved and help make a difference.Continue Reading
2017 was a big year for civic engagement. At the national level, we saw the inauguration of a new president, several major legislative debates, significant executive and regulatory actions like net neutrality, and protests and other forms of participation taking off across the political spectrum in response. On top of this, there was a seemingly endless presence of political issues in our news media and social media driving the conversation. And yet despite all of this, we now know that Americans are in many ways less civically engaged than ever before.Continue Reading
I recently was asked to speak to a joint meeting of town councils of four communities in Eastern North Carolina. The subject they asked me to speak about was community engagement. What I ended up spending most of my time talking about were two frames for thinking about the role of local government in the overall process of community building. The two frames are local government as vending machine and local government as barn raising. In 1996, Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California, wrote an article in ICMA’s Public Management (PM) magazine asking whether local government was serving customers or engaging citizens. He used the metaphor of the vending machine (which he attributed to another city manager, Rick Cole) to describe the common way local government’s are thought of.
Building new or rehabilitating deteriorating housing requires putting together complex and expensive deals. The people with the money and power to accomplish this, therefore, make the decisions about what gets built and where. This may or may not match with what works best for the people who will live there or for the community as a whole.
Most of us don’t get the opportunity to make the development decisions but we do pay for the shortage of good places to live. Many pay with the quality—or even the length—of our lives. Even if we have adequate housing ourselves, we all absorb the costs of health care, schools, public safety, and social services when people have to choose between dangerous places or moving from homes they can’t afford. Some are displaced by gentrification when whole streets are transformed from high-risk to high-cost; others live in neighborhoods that just continue to export dollars, as rent payments out (to landlords out of state or across town) exceed investment coming in.
Fellow CELE bloggers describe the complexities of raising our voices, as neighborhood residents and community advocates, about the impact of housing decisions. (See blogs tagged Affordable Housing)
BUT… However difficult it is to speak up, we must do so. Here is what is at stake for us and our communities:
As the local newspaper reporter for Chapel Hill, NC, periodically balanced an iPad with one hand, she took notes with the other. She was poised to receive the presentation, ask questions, and all the while, video the Town Manager as he explained his recommended budget to meet community goals – affordable housing, mobility infrastructure, and parental leave for employees.
She was the only media representative there. Joining her in the Town Hall conference room were the Town manager, business management director, communications manager and a communications specialist.
It has been a longtime practice to hold a media briefing before the recommended budget is presented to the Town Council. As a former newspaper reporter, I remember how difficult it was to put these detailed stories together on deadline. When I became a public information officer/communications manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, I decided to offer the briefings so that journalists have a face-to-face meeting to gain clarity with an opportunity to ask questions about the community’s annual budget.
For those outside Colorado, it may come as some surprise that one of the state’s hardest-fought legislative battles of the past few years – one that should finally conclude this week – involves incentives for condominium construction. As unsexy as “construction defects reform” sounds, it is emblematic of how much of a hot-button issue affordable housing is across The Centennial State. This is especially true along the Front Range, which is home to seven of the nation’s 12 counties where affordable housing is at its lowest-ever level.
This post was written by Brad Johnson and Sharon Felton. Brad Johnson is the Director of Engagement for Raleigh based Cityzen. He assists with implementation of projects and consulting with staff on the best approach. A former member of a planning staff, he’s worked with over a hundred local government entities to optimize their online engagement.
Sharon Felton is the Communications Administrator with the City of Raleigh Public Affairs team. She works with departments, including the Department of City Planning, to implement communications strategies that best fit their needs.
The City of Raleigh was faced with a dilemma when approaching the public outreach portion of their citywide Bike Plan. A passionate, well established group of cyclists would be engaged throughout, but staff didn’t want to assume that they were the only stakeholders in the process. Reaching others for what would be a relatively technocratic discussion seemed like a big challenge. Continue Reading