The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project

May 14, 2013

May 2013 Project Report

We are very happily celebrating the final step in the City of New Orleans' formal adoption of both policy and legal code that establishes the Early Notification System of the NOLA CPP model in our city.  First passed in policy form by the City Planning Commission last July, the policy document and amendments to the City's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance were unanimously adopted by the City Council on May 2.  The policy is officially called the "Neighborhood Participation Plan" by City Planning.

What these changes mean is that going forward, virtually any public or private sector project that requires any action at all by the City Planning Commission must be brought to the nearby residents and neighborhood association first, before the City Planning process can begin.  This a truly groundbreaking step in terms of protecting New Orleans neighborhoods against unwanted development, and the biggest achievement to date in this project.

While this also has positive ramifications for businesses, it will not be until the full NOLA CPP is implemented that the full benefits to businesses will be realized.  Good developers are already meeting with residents and neighborhood associations, and the new mandate will give all sides a chance to get together, solve problems and find common ground.  This should expedite the rest of the city's decision-making processes, which go much faster when all parties are in agreement.  However, business owners remain vulnerable to individuals who may appear later in the process, identify themselves as stakeholders, and demand changes and/or delays in a project.  In New Orleans, sometimes these individuals are legitimate; many times they are not.  Currently, there is no method for authenticating these individuals.  The full NOLA CPP model does include a method for identifying, authenticating and including all stakeholders at the beginning stages of a project.  Thus, one major next step for the project is working with business interests 1) to inform them about the new mandate and facilitate effective communication with residents and neighborhoods and 2) to enlist them in supporting adoption of the full CPP model.

We will also collaborate with the Planning Commission staff, the Neighborhood Engagement Office and our partners at the Neighborhoods Partnership Network on other aspects of implementing the NPP.

Simultaneously, our work to map neighborhood boundaries in New Orleans continues.  We are nearing completion of our second (of 13) planning districts, are making good progress on another two, and are about to start up in three more.  We also continue to work with the Neighborhood Engagement Office to enroll residents in the New Orleans Recreation Division Commission's new Community Advisory Boards, which are the first formally established structures for resident input in the city's history.  And our Neighborhood Association Manual has now been downloaded over 160 times, been circulated in printed copies, and is being used by several resident groups to help start new neighborhood associations.

Finally, we are advancing work on our Latino Community of Interest pilot project with our partners Puentes New Orleans.  Following up on the well-received Latino community survey, which examined Latino residents' priority needs and issues as well as their barriers to civic engagement (the report is currently being translated into Spanish), we are preparing a new survey that will take a more detailed look at issues, concerns and needs among Latino residents regarding health care and education.  We will be working with many of the Latino leaders who assisted us with the first survey, and also with the City's Department of Health, in designing and conducting the survey.  It is also likely that Puentes and Committee for a Better New Orleans will present on the first survey at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, which will take place in New Orleans in July.

While it is tempting to take a few breaths and celebrate a little longer over the adoption of the NOLA CPP Early Notification System, the other projects are keeping us much too busy -- and the new momentum is much too strong -- for such a luxury.  Our Citizen Action Team and other key partners will be meeting soon to discuss a comprehensive strategy and specific next steps for moving ahead with adoption of the full NOLA CPP model.  We have a great opportunity to speed up the already-accelerating pace, and must take full advantage.  As always, we are extremely grateful to our many supporters, here in New Orleans and across the country and world.  You enable our work and inspire our dreams.

Feb 21, 2013

February 2013 Project Report

Despite the distractions of Super Bowl (which severely restricted access to downtown New Orleans for an entire week) and Mardi Gras, the Citizen Participation Project team has been completing some ongoing work and laying the groundwork for an immensely productive 2013.  The early part of the year is typically an important planning time for us.  Major plans and activities have been laid out in the following aspects of the Project:

- Latino Community of Interest:  working with our partner Puentes New Orleans, we have prepared a presentation on the highly acclaimed Latino Community Survey completed last fall.  We will first present this to the Latino leaders with whom we worked on the Survey, to get their input on next steps; then to larger Latino community groups as well as neighborhood leaders.  This will be followed by setting up direct dialogue between Latino and neighborhood leaders, for the dual purposes of establishing "grasstops" collaboration and also for examining ways to engage Latino residents in neighborhood activities and programs.  These conversations will culminate in a Community Summit.  While open to the public, the primary focus will be to bring the Latino and neighborhood leaders together, along with government officials and other community leaders, for unifying dialogue on wider cooperation, better integration of Latino residents into community activities, and improved delivery of government programs and services to Latino residents.  As part of this, we will also continue our collaboration with the New Orleans Department of Health, assisting them to do a better job of reaching Latino residents with health care information and services.

- Participatory budgeting:  working with our partners in the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance (NOCOG), we continue to examine ways to engage residents in the city's budgeting process, and to increase community voice in designing the city budget.  A Community Summit on this topic is contemplated as well, and in particular, we are seeking to enable residents and community groups to work directly with city departments and agencies as they craft their "budget offers" that become the foundation of the city's budget.  We have identified this as the best opportunity for community members to impact the budget.  In addition, we have met with City Planning Commission staff to discuss opportunities for direct community input into the city's Capital Projects budget, which is distinct from the operating budget.  CPC staff has been very receptive to this concept.  For the next year's budget, this will hopefully include conducting a series of sessions where residents can evaluate and rank proposed projects; looking further ahead, we would like to move towards true Participatory Budgeting, where residents actually initiate projects to be considered.  CBNO, with NOCOG, is exploring funding sources for a pilot PB project.

- Early notification system:  adopted in conceptual form by the Planning Commission last summer and by the City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee in December, language is now being prepared by City Planning and the city's Law Department to embed this formally in the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance.  Vote on the legislation is scheduled by the Planning Commission at its first March meeting.  This is the first major piece of the overall Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by city government, and will ensure that all public and private sector projects must be brought to residents, neighborhood groups and businesses before they can begin the City Planning permitting process.

- Neighborhood mapping:  we have met with neighborhood leaders from the New Orleans East section of the city, and will tackle this area for mapping early next month.  We have already compiled all available maps of the region, including city assessor data and several post-Katrina planning maps, and developed a baseline map for the East.

- Neighborhood Association Manual:  this has been completed and released; it may be downloaded and printed from the Project website,  It provides a great guide to starting and managing a Neighborhood Association, with topics including managing committees, outreach and recruitment, creating public - private partnerships, managing conflict, and much more.  It also includes sample neighborhood association bylaws, a tool for compiling neighborhood needs inventories, and many other valuable references.  In addition, the first draft of the Blight Resource Guide has been completed and is currently in review and revision.

- New Orleans Recreation Development Commission Participation Plan:  NORDC and the New Orleans Neighborhood Engagement Office spent many months putting together a Participation Plan related to NORDC facilities and programs, drawing extensively on the NOLA CPP model.  The Commission formally adopted the Plan in January.  CBNO will help promote participation in this structure, and is considering the possibility of bringing Participatory Budgeting to the Commission as it develops its strategic plan.

2012 was a year of substantial achievements for the Citizen Participation Project, which gives us the opportunity and the obligation to build and expand upon this progress in 2013.  As always, we are extremely grateful to our many supporters, without whom we would simply not be able to take on this vitally important work.


Nov 27, 2012

December 2012 Project Report

The New Orleans Citizen Participation project is wrapping up one of its most successful years ever!

As we reported previously, the New Orleans City Planning Commission adopted the first major piece of the New Orleans Citizen Participation Program this summer.  The Planning Commission calls its piece its "Neighborhood Participation Plan", or NPP.  Since the Commission's adoption of the NPP in July, the Plan was reviewed and unanimously approved by the New Orleans City Council's Governmental Affairs Committee, and final ratification of the Plan by the full Council is expected in early December.  However, the mayor's proposed 2013 budget initially did not include funding to implement the NPP.  Fortunately, subsequent negotiations between the administration, the Planning Commission and the Council have led to inclusion of the necessary funding in the Commission's 2013 budget.  This ensures that residents, neighborhoods and businesses will be receiving information on both private and public sector projects that will impact them beginning early next year, and will also have the opportunity to meet with developers prior to any discussion of permitting, zoning, etc.

CBNO has also completed its Latino Community Survey and report, in partnership with Puentes New Orleans, a Latino organizing and advocacy organization.  The report details the needs and priorities of Latino residents in New Orleans, as well as their attitudes towards government and community participation.  It also examines the barriers Latinos experience to participation and the obstacles to obtaining needed government services.  This has already led to a meeting with the leadership of the city's Department of Health and a commitment from them to work with both Latino and Vietnamese communities in New Orleans to improve access to health care services and information.  Follow-up work will involve additional conversations with city government as well as Latino leaders, neighborhood leaders and other service providers.  The full text of the report can be found via the link at the end of this report.

The Neighborhood Boundary Mapping pilot project in the city's Planning District 6 has also been successfully concluded.  This will serve as a template for mapping neighborhood boundaries in all 13 Planning Districts, which is critical for the success of the Citizen Participation Program as well as for equitable economic development in New Orleans, for city service delivery and for many other vital reasons.  The report on this project has been provided to the city administration, and we hope to collaborate with the city to complete the mapping project over the course of the next year.  This report can also be found via the link at the end of our Global Giving report.

Building on our growing outreach to the New Orleans business community, the Citizen Participation Project also organized our Business Advisory Council.  The initial meeting of the BAC led to some new insights into business priorities for the CPP, as well as some excellent thoughts on how to continue building business support and to move the next phases of the project forward in 2013.  Among the more subtle but important accomplishments for the Project in 2012 is our expansion of awareness of and support for the CPP in the diverse New Orleans business communities.

Finally, less than two weeks ago a year-long tug of war over a proposed amendment to the New Orleans Master Plan came to a final resolution in front of the City Council.  The administration-proposed amendment would have substantially weakened the Community Participation chapter of the Master Plan; further, the amendment was offered with no community input, to a Master Plan that was created with the input of thousands of community members.  From our standpoint, this made the amendment a bad idea in terms of both content and process.  Though accepted by the City Planning Commission, the amendment in its original form was sent back to CPC when it came before the City Council.  CBNO worked with CPC staff on the language, and the revised version was significantly less damaging; however, we still felt that it was unnecessary, damaging to the advancement of meaningful civic engagement in New Orleans, and contrary to the spirit of community input that shaped the Master Plan.  The Planning Commission almost voted to reject the amendment, then ultimately decided to forward it to the City Council.  At the Council meeting where the amendment was considered, there was lengthy debate before the Council finally voted 4-3 to reject it, putting the issue to rest at last.  CBNO is very appreciative of the community voices that weighed in with the Council in opposition to the amendment, as well as the willingness of the Council members to examine the amendment thoroughly and take a stand against.  We do see opportunities to improve the Master Plan going forward, and hope to work with the administration on both language and a community process that ensures this is done in a way that is inclusive and productive.

With a critical piece of the Citizen Participation Program adopted by New Orleans city government, with two major reports completed and serving as the basis for community actions in 2013, with growing support for our work and the threat of damage to it in the Master Plan eliminated, we look back on 2012 with satisfaction -- and as always, with tremendous gratitude to the many people who support our work with their time and their contributions.  Best wishes to all for the year ahead!

Sep 5, 2012

September 2012 Project Report

First, we are happy to report that New Orleans survived Hurricane Isaac with little worse than a lot of downed trees and extensive power outages.  However, the situation once again pointed out the need for a structured Citizen Participation Program, including high-quality, multi-modal lines of communications.  The city's 311 number went out for a good while, and internet service, cell phone service and power were all out for various periods of time.  This left accurate and timely information difficult to come by for many citizens, especially the elderly and infirm and those with fewer communications methods at their fingertips to begin with.

On the plus side, in August the New Orleans City Planning Commission formally adopted what it calls its Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP).  While this name is a bit misleading, in that it is a document focused on Planning Commission policies and procedures, it does include the first major piece of the New Orleans Citizen Participation Program to be adopted by city government.  Specifically, it mandates that all significant projects proposed in the city must be presented to the neighborhood(s) that will be impacted first -- before any Planning Commission staff work is done and certainly before any permits, variances, etc. are provided.  This Early Notification System is the foundation upon which the entire CPP is based, so it is a major step forward.  One particularly pleasing development was that the Planning Commission's initial proposal would have made this requirement fall only on private sector developments; however, based on our strong recommendation, the final document also placed this mandate on city government projects.  Since these are often larger in scope, and therefore have greater impacts on the community, this was a vital improvement to the final document.

Also in August, Committee for a Better New Orleans teamed with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Development District and the Business Council of New Orleans to put on a breakfast briefing about the CPP for business leaders.  Approximately 70 leaders from a wide variety of businesses attended.  The presentation on the CPP was well-received, and the subsequent question and comment session went on for much longer than we anticipated, indicating the high level of interest in the project.  While Hurricane Isaac has interrupted our follow-up on this, we did receive many supportive comments at the briefing, and will be organizing a Business Advisory Council from interested attendees to continue building business community support for the project.

Next up is a series of public forums at which we will have a moderated debate on one key element of the New Orleans CPP, the concept of District Councils.  These are essentially coalitions of geographically proximate neighborhood associations, and virtually every CPP in the world has some version of them.  They have emerged organically in more than 75% of New Orleans, and they are utterly essential to ensuring equity and capacity-building throughout a citizen participation program.  This has not kept some loud voices from opposing them in New Orleans.  The purpose of the debates is to provide community members with a factual, balanced understanding of what District Councils are and will do, and to give people a chance to question both sides about their stances.

The bottom line for the NOLA CPP is that substantial progress is being made and that community information efforts are continuing; both in turn are building the support base for bringing the full-blown Citizen Participation Program across the finish line.  We're not there yet, but just like the last laps of the Olympic distance races, the pace is picking up!


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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Project Leader

Hillary Brown

New Orleans, LA United States

Where is this project located?

Map of The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project