The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project

 
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Sep 22, 2014

September 2014 Project Report

The winding down of summer coincides with putting the finishing touches on a couple of major components of our ongoing citizen participation work -- and we're still keeping the heat on with the New Orleans answer to the Ice Bucket Challenge!

The most exciting piece is completing the report on our Latino Community Health survey.   This is part of the CPP's Latino Community of Interest pilot project, with our partner Puentes New Orleans.  The New Orleans Health Department also joined us in conducting the survey.  We've put a lot of work into the report, which we plan to release in mid-October, but the findings are clear:  for a variety of reasons, Latino residents in New Orleans face multiple obstacles to accessing health care and to other important aspects of healthy living.  The good news is that some of the problems can be fixed easily.  For example, as simplistic as this may sound, the simple lack of Spanish-language signage on the exterior of health clinics prevents many residents from knowing where to get health care.  We are already working to raise funds to place both exterior and interior dual-language signage on as many health clinics as possible; we can do an entire clinic for just $1000.  We expect to have the full Health Survey report posted on our website in a few more weeks.

We are also nearing completion of our evaluation of the City Planning Commission Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP), the first major piece of our full Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by the city of New Orleans.  Overall the NPP is really doing its job of preserving neighborhood character while promoting quality economic development.  It is, however, only a first step towards meaningful and inclusive community engagement throughout New Orleans.  The city is on the verge of a major update to its Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO), which is where the NPP legislation sits, and we have made a few initial recommendations to improve it, such as increasing the minimum notification time for NPP meetings, setting a maximum distance for holding these meetings from the property site, and increasing residents' access to the meeting reports.  We are confident these recommendations will be accepted as the new CZO moves forward, and both the Planning Commission and the City Council have told us that they will be very willing to consider further amendments to the new CZO once our full report is completed, which we expect will be before the end of the year.

We're also still working on connecting New Orleans residents to the city budgeting process, and will be having a major community event on October 8.  We are partnering with numerous organizations to provide information on every aspect of the budget.  The real fun, though, will be engaging residents in a process to develop the People's Budget, which we will release at the same time the mayor releases his budget.

We continue to move ahead with other key aspects of the CPP work, including the neighborhood boundary mapping project and our new resource publication, the Residents Guide to City Government.  All work and no fun, though, makes for a dull project, so we decided to spice things up (literally) with the New Orleans answer to the Ice Buck Challenge:  the NOLA Heat Challenge!  Check it out at www.vimeo.com/102070194.

The seasons change, but nothing changes our focus on creating every possible opportunity for meaningful civic engagement in New Orleans.  This work only happens because of the support we get from people like you; on behalf of all of us who are involved with all of these projects, thanks so much for keeping it going!

Jul 3, 2014

July 2014 Project Report

There is a myth that in New Orleans in summer everything slows down.  We don't know the origin of that myth, but it sure isn't CBNO:  we've just released our new Blight Resource Guide, our Latino Community Health Survey report is almost completed, we just completed neighborhood mapping in another Planning District, and work continues apace on the NPP evaluation.

The Blight Resource Guide is a product of the Housing Community of Interest pilot project of the Citizen Participation Program, in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.  One thing we want to demonstrate with this pilot is how the Communities of Interest -- a groundbreaking new concept in Citizen Participation Programs -- can not only bring new people into the civic engagement process, but also be a resource to neighborhood groups.  The Blight Guide is a perfect example of this.  It serves as a compendium of public sector, nonprofit and private sector resources that are available to individuals, neighborhoods and community groups as they seek to take the fight against blight into their own hands.  Since New Orleans has at least 30,000 blighted properties within the city limits, enabling people to take action towards remediating properties that are impacting their daily lives is a major accomplishment.  The Blight Resource Guide can be downloaded from our website, www.cbno.org, in the Newsroom section; or from the Guide's own site, www.nolablightguide.com.

The Latino Community Health Survey is a project of our other Community of Interest pilot, in partnership with Puentes New Orleans.  The New Orleans Department of Health is also partnering in this.  The purpose is to get a much better understanding of the primary health issues and needs, and barriers to receiving health care, faced by New Orleans' fastest-growing population segment.  The report contains numerous detailed recommendations for addressing the Survey findings, and the Department of Health has indicated that it will begin implementing those recommendations that pertain to its work rapidly.  We have already received support from the Chevron Corporation to begin implementing additional recommendations.  Given that close to half of the Survey respondants indicated that they have received no health care at all in at least two years -- and in many cases, much longer -- moving from information to action is imperative, and we are very pleased to see this happening so quickly.  This project will result in improved outcomes for New Orleans' Latino residents for many years to come.

The Neighborhood Boundary Mapping work continues to move forward, though not as quickly as we might wish.  It is troubling to encounter sections of the city where there is no history at all of neighborhood organization, or even of any real neighborhood identity.  Not surprisingly, these areas tend to be under-resourced and plagued with numerous urban ills.  It is also frustrating when geographically proximate areas want nothing to do with including their neighbors.  Nonetheless, we just completed the Planning District 5 map, and have five more districts in the works.

Finally, we continue working on the evaluation of the City Planning Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP).  As we've noted before, this is the first major piece of our Citizen Participation Program proposal to be adopted by the city, and it is critical that we get a clear understanding of how it is functioning.  The early results indicate that, while a few tweaks would be useful, it is truly serving its dual purposes of preserving neighborhood character and promoting quality economic development.  We have seen instances where proposals that simply were bad ideas were denied after strong and clear neighborhood opposition; we have also seen instances where proposals that met with such opposition initially were ultimately approved after the developer and the residents worked together to find mutually acceptable solutions.  It is really, really rewarding to see this process working after a decade of pushing to bring it to fruition in New Orleans.

It's great to see this kind of progress happening in our work, and we are already in the early phases of our next publication, a Community Guide to how city government works.  Needless to say, we are extremely grateful to all of our supporters; without you, none of this would happen.  We hope everyone has a happy summer -- just don't look for it to be a slow summer here at CBNO!

Apr 14, 2014

April 2014 Project Report

Spring is busting out all over New Orleans, and CBNO is busting out in search of community input and engagement!

We have begun conducting surveys of residents, neighborhoods and businesses about the City Planning Commission's Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP), which is the first major piece of our comprehensive Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by the city.  The NPP requires any applicant seeking any action by the Planning Commission to meet with the nearby residents and neighborhood association before the application process can begin.  This is a vital first step towards meaningful community participation in New Orleans.

Working with the Planning Commission and our partners at the Neighborhoods Partnership Network, we have designed an objective survey tool to gauge the effectiveness of the NPP.  This has several purposes; key among them is to identify anything in the NPP that may need to be improved, and (hopefully) to demonstrate overall that it is indeed a valuable tool for both preserving neighborhood character and promoting quality economic development.  Assuming the surveys do indicate this, it will help us to make sure that the NPP is not weakened in any way when the city's new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance is adopted later this year (the NPP is part of the current CZO).  Good results will also help make the case for expanding the NPP to cover other departments with a high level of impact on residents and neighborhoods, like Public Works and the Sewerage and Water Board.

With the high stakes, it has not been without a little trepidation that we have begun doing the surveys, but we are pleased to report that both businesspeople and residents seem to be having very positive experiences with the NPP.  We have identified a few instances where applicants followed the letter but not the spirit of the NPP, but in most cases, the business owners have truly taken this to heart, and the residents are responding positively.  Full survey results will not be available until June, but we are very pleased to see that the initial results strongly endorse this big step towards inclusive, structured civic engagement in New Orleans.

Our related work on creating more open and accountabile city budgeting processes is also going well.  We were recently awarded a grant from the Sunlight Foundation to create a new website that will allow any New Orleans resident to track city spending compared to the adopted budget, and will generally shed some more light on the budget process.  All the candidates who were successful in the recent municipal elections signed pledges from the Forward New Orleans Coalition, of which CBNO is a member, to make changes in the budget process that would allow for more meaningful and timely community input into the city budget, and we will be working with coalition partners to make sure that city officials do follow through on this.  Finally, we are developing a steering committee to oversee our work to bring Participatory Budgeting to New Orleans; the committee is being populated by residents from all over the city as well as representatives from neighborhood and community coalitions.  We initially had some difficulty getting people to engage on this (city budgeting not being the sexiest topic under the sun), but in the last month the pace has accelerated rapidly, and we expect to have this group up and running by June.

Wherever you may be reading this, we hope that both spring and strong community participation are in your air too!  Thank you for caring, and for supporting our work to create equity and opportunity for all New Orleanians.

Jan 23, 2014

January 2014 Project Report

It is election season in New Orleans:  on February 1, we will vote for mayor and six of the seven City Council seats (one incumbent did not draw an opponent).  It has been exciting to see that civic engagement and reforming the city budget process to include meaningful community input have been high-visibility issues during the campaigns.  Coalitions such as the strong Forward New Orleans group have made improving input into the budget process part of their platforms, which they ask candidates to sign on to; and questions about citizen participation and budget reform have been a constant at various candidate forums.

That said, not all candidates have embraced forceful positions on resident input.  Thus the upcoming elections could result in a mayor and strong Council majority in favor; or a mayor opposed and a weak Council majority in favor.  The plus side is that either way, we will still have majority Council support for this work, and we will come out of the campaign with greater visibility for the issues and stronger support in both neighborhoods and the business community.

Meanwhile, the work of the Citizen Participation Project goes on.  One of our top priorities is building on the passage last year of the City Planning Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP), which is basically the Early Notification System from our full Citizen Participation Plan (CPP) model.  Currently, we are working on the following:

- Developing an objective evaluation tool for residents, neighborhood and businesses that have experienced the new NPP, to demonstrate how well it is working and make any recommendations for refinements.

- Continuing to make presentations to neighborhood and business groups about the NPP, to make sure that all are well informed and able to derive the most benefit from the NPP.

- Monitoring the progress on the rewrite of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, which contains the NPP legislation, to ensure that it is compatible with the NPP.

- Identifying additional city agencies and departments to which we can expand the NPP.  Examples would be the Department of Public Works, the Sewerage and Water Board, and the Historic District Landmarks Commission.

We are also working to complete a Blight Resource Guide, which will be a tool for residents and neighborhoods to combat blight in their communities, beyond what city government is accomplishing.  This project has taken longer than we had hoped, but a comprehensive draft has been prepared and we are in the review stage, with a target of a spring publication date.

Work also continues with our partner Puentes New Orleans in the Latino Community of Interest project.  We have completed the second Latino Community Survey; more than 300 Latino residents answered questions mostly pertaining to health care and education, two top issues identified in the first Community Survey.  We are analyzing the data right now, and should have the report published within the next two months.  We appreciate the support and partnership with the New Orleans Department of Health in conducting this survey.

Work also continues on the Neighborhood Boundary Mapping project.  The city recently released a map of what it described as neighborhood association boundaries, but because this also included merchant groups, community development corporations, main street organizations and many other groups, it is full of overlaps and is thus confusing and difficult to use.  We are optimistic that after the elections, we can sit down with city officials and explore opportunities to collaborate on the neighborhood -- not neighborhood organization -- maps.

As always, the CPP work has many facets.  CBNO staff participated in some campaign training in late 2013, and have organized the work more into a campaign structure, which we think will further enhance our capacity to move the project forward.  We remain extremely grateful for the support from the Global Giving community; we wish everyone a happy, prosperous and civically engaged New Year!

Oct 31, 2013

October 2013 Project Report

The big win finally got put in the books, and we are happily at work consolidating the victory benefits!

Thirteen months after it was initially approved by the New Orleans City Planning Commission ... three months after it was approved as policy by the New Orleans City Council ... multiple meetings later than it was supposed to be as opponents made a last-ditch effort to kill it ... the City Council adopted amendments to the city's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance that put the Early Notification System from our Citizen Participation Program into law.

Called the Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP) by the Planning Commission, the new law mandates that virtually any public or private sector project that will require any action by the Commission must first be brought to the residents and neighborhood association that will be impacted by it.  Until the residents and neighborhood are notified, a meeting has been conducted, and a report on the comments received (and the applicant's response to them) has been filed, the application process cannot proceed.

Progressive business owners have already begun using this approach, and even before the NPP was placed into law, there were two high-profile situations where a business proposal that initially met with strong opposition from residents and the neighborhood association received final approval after the owner met with the neighbors and resolved the concerns to everyone's satisfaction (ironically, both businesses received their approvals from the Council at a meeting where the NPP itself was deferred).  Beyond question, we will see many more of these outcomes, where commerce proceeds while neighborhood quality of life is preserved -- and even enhanced.

CBNO is doing two things to ensure the success of the NPP.  First, we are doing presentations to business organizations, and some neighborhood groups, to inform them about the NPP and make sure they know how to be effective and inclusive in using it.  Second, we are developing an evaluation tool so that we quantify its efficacy, and also so that after a period of time, we can recommend any tweaks that might improve it.  Thus far we have presented to more than 100 business people, and have been very gratified at the positive responses we have received.  The era of the much-abhorred "Planning by Surprise" in New Orleans truly is coming to an end.

On another front, we are in the final stages of completing our second Latino Community Survey, with partner organization Puentes New Orleans.  This is part of our Latino Community of Interest project of the Citizen Participation Program.  The follow-up survey was requested by Latino community leaders and also the city Department of Health, and focuses on health and education issues that Latino residents face.  The Health Department has committed to using the findings to improve its capacity to deliver health information and programs to Latino residents, and CBNO and Puentes will similarly work with schools and other education organizations to improve education outcomes for Latino students and families.  We were aided in the survey design by expert volunteers from Tulane University, and they will also help us to analyze that data, which will give even more value, credibility and weight to the data.

Finally, we have continued our work to reform the municipal budgeting process in New Orleans.  While this seems like a pretty dry and arcane subject, we have found a strong appetite for involvement on the part of community members throughout the city.  We have done a number of teach-ins and other information sessions, and generated a substantial turnout of residents for the Budget Town Halls that preceded the mayor's submission of the budget to the City Council.  We are organizing this effort into a formal campaign, and are assembling a steering committee that will have a majority of the seats held by community members.  The next major step will be an unconference in mid-January to bring budgeting information to even more residents, and to help set priorities and objectives for the campaign moving forward.  Just a hint here: we would love to have your support for putting on this event!

So, it has been an exciting and productive time for the Citizen Participation Project, with significant progress, increased momentum, and even greater opportunities ahead.  We appreciate your interest in this important work, and thank you so much for your support.

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Organization

Project Leader

Hillary Brown

New Orleans, LA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project