Committee for a Better New Orleans

CBNO is a multi-racial, multi-generational community organization, a catalyst and convener, working to bring all voices to the table to address systemic issues that will help to build a better quality of life for all New Orleanians. CBNO/MAC will accomplish its mission by providing and maintaining an advocacy role that encourages the kinds of partnership, collaboration and candid conversation that reflect the interests of the citizens of New Orleans.
Jun 5, 2012

June 2012 Project Report

We are thrilled to report substantial progress and growing opportunities to build on it for the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project!

Working with the City of New Orleans Neighborhood Engagement Office and its director Lucas Diaz, we are engaged in several different projects to pilot -- within city entities -- various versions of civic engagement structures.  This includes the New Orleans Recreation Commission and the New Orleans Police Department, and will hopefully be followed by the development of a community input structure for the city's capital projects budget.  Mr. Diaz has shown great leadership and tenacity in working to advance the cause of meaningful civic engagement in New Orleans.

Another still-forming opportunity is the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which is a joint venture between the city and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), which is currently under HUD receivership.  New Orleans was one of five cities nationally awarded federal funding via the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative; locally the project is focused on the redevelopment of the Iberville Housing project adjacent to the famous French Quarter.  However, the geographic scope of this project covers five or six additional neighborhoods and includes a large number of additional stakeholders.  Indeed, the total area is a significant portion of the core of old New Orleans, so this project is vitally important to the future of the city.

This project also involves working closely with Mr. Diaz as well as other of our partners, including the Neighborhoods Partnership Network.  As the project involves substantial federal funding, it comes with a civic engagement mandate.  Mr. Diaz has drawn heavily on the Citizen Participation Program (CPP) model designed by New Orleans community members to create the civic engagement program for this Initiative, including the groundbreaking "Communities of Interest" piece.  We are working on a Memorandum of Understanding with the city to formalize a working agreement to help manage the civic engagement component.  If we are able to bring all this together, it will both ensure meaningful community participation in a project that will have a huge impact on the future of New Orleans and provide an extraordinary opportunity to test the full CPP model in a complex setting.

Last but far from least, the New Orleans City Planning Commission just released the public draft of its Neighborhood Participation Plan.  While the name is a bit of a misnomer -- the document primarily describes new policies and procedures for the Planning Commission itself -- it includes a clear mandate that any new business or development proposal must be presented to the impacted neighborhood(s) before the applicant can proceed with the City Planning permitting process.  This mandate is a foundation for the entire CPP.  The Planning Commission document includes a section referencing the work done by CBNO and our community participants, which is a nice shout-out; but much more important, if this document is adopted this summer as anticipated, this will be the first major piece of the CPP to become official city policy.  This has been a long time coming, and we are very, very excited for all the community members who worked so hard for so long and kept the faith through every setback.

With various New Orleans agencies adopting community input structures, with the opportunity afforded by the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, and with the Planning Commission formalizing a key piece of the CPP, we are enjoying progress and momentum like never before.  We are so appreciative of the support we have received from so many different sources; we hope that you also feel you a part of this progress.

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Mar 12, 2012

March 2012 Project Report

Just as spring brings new growth to our world, spring is bringing to new progress to the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project.

Our District Council Pilot Project is moving ahead in partnership with the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, which recently elected new leadership and restructured its committee system.  This has elevated levels of enthusiasm and participation, and the committees are meeting regularly.  In particular, we are assisting GCIA with rewriting its bylaws, which is a precursor to another piece we are collaborating on, working to obtain official nonprofit status for the organization.  We have also provided support for GCIA's communications and outreach, which in turn enhances the organization's ability to provide information and connectivity to its individual member neighborhood associations.  Also, thanks in part to the generosity of ESRI, we are making good progress in creating a consensus map of the neighborhood boundaries in Gentilly/Planning District 6.  Redoing the antiquated neighborhood boundary map in New Orleans is vitally important not just for advancing the Citizen Participation Project but also for several other critical city initiatives (including its accelerated outflow of information to the community), and Gentilly is serving as the demonstration project and testing ground for the methodology we propose to use citywide.

Good progress is also being made with our Latino Community of Interest pilot project.  Individual meetings have been conducted with over a dozen individual Latino community leaders, many of them faith leaders.  This in turn has led to the scheduling of multiple community outreach meetings in collaboration with these leaders.  Turnout at the first of these exceeded expectations, and we are now bringing the information about the CPP to an entirely new audience (including Spanish language informational materials).  We are in the final stages of developing a detailed survey for the New Orleans Latino community, focusing on community needs, attitudes towards government and government services, levels of (and barriers to) civic engagement, and the relationship between Latinos and their neighborhoods.  Once the survey is translated, it will be conducted in conjunction with our partner Puentes New Orleans and the community leaders.  The survey results will not only help us tailor the CPP message and reach more Latino community members, it will also provide information that we will share with city government regarding ways to more effectively outreach to, and provide services to, Latino individuals and families.

Most promising of all, New Orleans city government is using key aspects of the proposed Citizen Participation Program model to design civic engagement structures for the newly formed New Orleans Recreation Commission and Police Community Advisory Boards.  This work is being led by the city's Neighborhood Engagement Office and its director (and former director of Puentes) Lucas Diaz.  While opposition remains within some segments of city government to the overall CPP project and approach, we hope that proving its value within these two settings will overcome this resistance and help move towards a comprehensive approach to civic engagement.  While these two projects are going on, the City Planning Commission is developing internal policies for working with citizen input, which is a valuable corollary to the external civic engagement work.  Finally, we have been meeting with members of the New Orleans City Council to discuss the status of the overall work and how to build on this momentum; in addition, we are working with the Council members and the Neighborhood Engagement Office to identify an opportunity to do a pilot participatory budgeting process in the city.

While there are still challenges ahead, each of these victories -- large and small -- brings us another step down the path.  We are excited that the pilot projects are producing real benefits for our partners, and equally enthused to see initial signs of work taking root in city government.  We are grateful beyond words for the support we receive through Global Giving; every contribution not only enables our work but provides powerful encouragement as we face these challenges and take these individual steps forward.

Dec 22, 2011

2011 Year-End Report

The end of 2011 finds the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project (CPP) experiencing a mix of frustration and optimism.  The frustration comes because the indications at the beginning of the year were that New Orleans city government was going to adopt the CPP sometime this past summer and we could move into full implementation; unfortunately, a difference of viewpoints among several key city government entities pushed this timetable far back.  This apparently is the nature of systemic change, much of which by defnition has to include government and therefore politics, and requires so many different actors to get on to the same stage (and page!).

The optimism comes because the final quarter of the year saw considerable activity on parts of the CPP within city government and growing support in new communities and sectors within New Orleans.

Specifically, the city's Neighborhood Engagement Office, which was created in spring 2011 and whose inception was a major factor in the CPP delays, conducted an initial process for developing policies and procedures for city government agencies and departments to use citizen input in their decision-making.  While this does nothing to empower the community to provide this input, it is nonetheless a very important step.  For one, it demonstrates strong recognition on the part of city government that it should pay far more attention to community voices; for two, it begins creating a culture within the individual segments of government of valuing, using, and being accountable to citizen input.

On the heels of this, the City Planning Commission CPC) has just launched a similar process specific to its own operations.  This agency probably interacts more with citizens, and therefore needs more citizen input, than any other within the administrative branch.  Further, CPC staff is very aware of CBNO's work on the external CPP, and has supported and indeed contributed to the work.  At the public kickoff meeting for this process, dozens of citizens came out and advocated for including the external CPP with the internal procedure design work.  Both the Chair of the Planning Commission and the Executive Director have agreed to meet after the first of the year to discuss possible collaboration on these issues.  It helps greatly that the New Orleans City Council, in the city budget it adopted December 1, included funding in the Planning Commission budget specifically for a "community participation program", which Council members have confirmed to us is intended for the external component.

While all of this went on within City Hall, CBNO worked with various community groups to continue pilot program projects to refine the New Orleans CPP model and demonstrate to city government the value of the CPP.  Specifically, partners included the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, a collection of neighborhood associations within the city's sixth planning district, demonstrating the District Council component of the CPP.  CBNO also worked with the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance on the Housing Community of Interest pilot and with Puentes New Orleans on the Latino Community of Interest pilot.  The Communities of Interest are a groundbreaking new approach to expanding citizen participation programs to include residents who do not typically participate in their neighborhood groups, and the work this year amply demonstrated both the need to be more inclusive and the potential of this approach to achieve this critical objective.

While the overall results this year fell short of hopes, we always prefer to aim high, push hard and see how far we get.  With an initial draft of internal city hall policies and procedures for working with citizen input in the mayor's hands for review, tangible progress was made on the government side.  The pilot projects provided both valuable insights on how to continue refining the New Orleans CPP model and great demonstrations of why each of the pilot components is integral to this model.  In the year ahead, we hope to maximize the opportunity to work with the City Planning Commission to meld the internal and external components, and ideally to bring the final, full-fledged model to the City Council for adoption.  As always, we appreciate greatly the support of those who stick with us as this highly challenging, exceptionally powerful work of creating systemic change and empowering community residents inches forward.

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