14 cities have been honored for community engagement efforts as outlined in a recent report released by thein association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The report highlights various forms of engagement including the use of open data, participatory budgeting with public funds, citywide strategic planning and community-based funding initiatives. Findings from the study indicated sustained engagement can translate into economic gains in communities.
The 14 city engagement efforts recognized in the report were:
Philadelphia – for the civic campaign to reclaim the Delaware River waterfront after years of subpar municipal planning left the area stagnant. Additionally, the city was recognized for its new focus on the use of new technologies, including open data projects, the online press outlet TechnicallyPhilly.org, and several annual events and competitions such as Philly Tech Week.
St. Paul, Minn. - for redeveloping the city’s central corridor though community engagement. Specifically, the project cedes major decision-making authority for development along the corridor, including building types, streetscapes and open spaces to the affected communities. Two task forces were created by the city, comprised of area residents, business interests and community leaders to guide the decisions that will develop the corridor over the next 10 years.
Austin, Texas – for Imagine Austin, the city’s new comprehensive plan. To develop the plan, the city council formed a task force comprised of citizens who used outreach strategies to gauge the public’s desires for the city’s future. These strategies included new technology tools, bi-lingual gatherings and special events to attract youth and young families.
Boston – for its efforts to welcome new American citizens. The Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians is a program designed to help new immigrants assimilate into American culture. Among other things, the program offers free immigration-related legal consultation and English classes. It boasts more than a thousand participants each year.
Charlotte, N.C. – for Crossroads Charlotte, an effort to increase social capital. The program encourages corporate and civic leaders to imagine what Charlotte will look like in 2015, and creates a civic dialogue to guide the city toward better outcomes.
Chicago – for participatory budgeting in the 49th ward. Through a variety of community meetings, Chicago Alderman Joe Moore determined how to prioritize and spend $1.3 million in local infrastructure funds to serve the community.
Hampton, Va. – for the I Value program, which built on two decades of community engagement and leadership to gauge what the community valued in the face of budget shortfalls. The city used various tools to garner feedback, including traditional meetings, online chats and social media. The city also fostered outreach to community groups like the Kiwanis club and athletic leagues.
Richmond, Va. – for promoting and participating in public square meetings. Since 2005, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has held a series of public square community conversations throughout the year on a variety of topics. City officials have embraced these meetings, often attending on their own time to garner feedback on municipal services. To date, there have been 38 such meetings, with 75-100 individuals in attendance at each.
Hartford, Conn. – for investing in parents as community leaders. The city’s Parent Leadership Training Institute is a 20-week program, which trains new parents to be “champions for their children” and become active participants in the policy and process debates that affect them.
Macon, Ga. – for its revitalization of the College Hill Corridor. The 2007 College Hill Corridor initiative offered opportunities for residents to involve themselves in the physical, economic and civic revitalization of the neighborhoods surrounding Mercer University. The project led to new and rehabilitated, down payment assistance programs and a comprehensive strategy for the area.
Decatur, Ga. – for its decade-long effort to engage residents in strategic planning. Each municipal department’s budget is tied to its strategic outreach plan and community engagement infrastructure. For the past decade, information channels have been established for and by residents for the city to react to its population’s needs, including newsletters, blogs and participation in community meetings.
San Jose, Calif. – for its neighborhood-based initiatives to strengthen residents’ senses of community and promote city-led democratic governance. San Jose’s initiatives have tackled issues ranging from building online networking opportunities to neighborhood redevelopment.
Akron, Ohio – for reimagining its schools as community centers. In 2003, Akron citizens approved a 0.25 percent income tax increase to partially fund renovation efforts at all Akron Public Schools. These schools are used as community learning centers, offering afterschool and summer programs for students as well as adult education classes.
Detroit – for fostering innovation through entrepreneurship. Although lacking a coordinating entity to approach engagement systematically, Detroit has been experiencing a growth of innovation spurred by the efforts of social entrepreneurs and foundations. This growth of innovation has lead to strong residential networks and a revitalization of the community.
“The examples showcased in this new report indicate that civic engagement is alive and well in cities and towns throughout the United States,” Mayor of Avondale, Ariz., and NLC President Marie Lopez Rogers said in a statement. “From Detroit to Austin these success stories indicate that by creatively reaching out to untapped resources and using new engagement tactics, communities can become more inclusive and more innovative.”