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.
Feb 5, 2016

February 2016 Project Report

Big Easy Budget Game Home Page
Big Easy Budget Game Home Page

It's Mardi Gras time in New Orleans, but before we slip into our costumes and head out to the parades, we are pleased to report continued progress on many civic engagement fronts in New Orleans!

As our supporters and followers know, the City Planning Commission Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP) is the first formal mandate for civic engagement in New Orleans.  Based on one section of CBNO's more comprehensive Community Participation Plan proposal, it has clearly been successful since its 2013 adoption.  However, there is definitely room for improvement, and we made numerous recommendations to the Planning Commission for improvements last fall.  The Commission held a public hearing on this subject in December, and about 25 residents spoke -- and every single one of them supported the recommendations we made.  After the hearing, we spoke with a couple of the Commissioners, and they appear prepared to adopt everything we proposed -- even one particular item we thought was going to be too controversial.  The vote on the NPP amendments will take place later this month, so we will be monitoring the situation closely.  Clearly, the result will be turning a good and useful piece of legislation into something even stronger and better.

Also on the NPP front, the city's Historic District Landmarks Commission (HDLC) has agreed to have the NPP expanded to include them as well; the City Attorney's office is presently drafting language to enact this.  Predictably, the administration initially opposed this step, but has since backed down.

On another civic engagement front, our work to engage more people in the city's annual budgeting process continues to move forward.  Our "Big Easy Budget Breakdown" website is completed; this provides the city's budget to actual spending information on an annual basis going back to 2007, in a format that is both detailed and fairly easy to understand (as compared to the city's 800 page budget books!).  The second website, the "Big Easy Budget Game" went through very successful beta testing in December, with a group of about twenty community members, and we are making final refinements based on their input.  This site will enable any New Orleans resident to create his/her own version of the city budget, with parameters to keep people real so that we get realistic budgets.  The community members had fun during the beta testing, and learned a lot about the budget in the process.  There will be a citywide vote in early April to consider a new property millage; our plan is to do a formal launch of both websites about two weeks before the election, with city officials and the media present.  This timing should maximize media coverage and general attention.

After the sites are launched, we will begin a large-scale effort to bring the Budget Game to the community -- neighborhood and community meetings, libraries, churches, etc. -- so that we include the full diversity of New Orleanians in the Game, including the many people here who do not have internet access.  We will then aggregate the data and present it to the city budget staff, the mayor and the City Council as "The People's Budget".  After the city adopts its actual budget, we will then do a comparitive analysis to see how the input from The People's Budget was used.  As a final note, the Budget Game has been designed in such away that it can be adapted for literally any city in the world; after we launch it in New Orleans, we will begin making it available for other interested jurisdictions.  Please feel free to contact us (info@cbno.org) if you would like more information on this.

With these two major projects in their very final stages, we have begun working with colleagues in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward -- ground zero for the Hurricane Katrina damage -- on a true Participatory Budgeting (PB) process to be conducted this year.  We began the seed work on this last summer, but now we have formally launched the project.  This will be the first-ever PB process in the United States conducted independently of local government (our mayor has said -- direct quote -- "New Orleans is not ready for Participatory Budgeting"), and we are incredibly excited about empowering residents in this still badly damaged neighborhood to spend funds on improving their lives the way they think is most appropriate.

Finally, our Residents Guide to City Government, a comprehensive user's manual that has taken over a year to compile, is at the printer!  While we won't get them back in time to hand them out from Mardi Gras parade floats, they will be widely distributed once the Carnival season is over, and will be a great tool for people to better access city programs and services.

While there is still a lot more work to be done before we can truly say that there are meaningful civic engagement opportunities available to all New Orleans residents, we are really pleased with the progress that is being made.  Momentum is building, and we are seeing more and more references in the media, from community and business groups, and from residents in general to the need to really have strong community input into government decision-making.  For those of you who have been following our work over the years, we hope you are as excited as we are to see these ever-larger steps forward taking place.  For those who may be learning about us for the first time, thanks for checking it out.  We could not do it without the support of all of you -- these successes are every bit us much yours as they are successes of CBNO, our partners and the people of New Orleans.

Sample of Budget Game working section
Sample of Budget Game working section
Nov 10, 2015

November 2015 Project Report

Sometimes it seems like the last 10% of a particular project can take 50% of the time, and it has seemed that way around here on a couple of our efforts over the last few months.  But now we are 95% of the way through that last 10% on two major pieces, with signficant progress on two other projects, so we are looking to wrap up the year in style!

The long-anticipated "Big Easy Budget Breakdown" website -- providing budget to actual figures for New Orleans city government going back to 2007 -- has at last completed every bit of data entry and verification.  We are working to coordinate with the city on a press conference to launch the site, but with or without them, we are going live the first week of December at the latest.  The site did get a bit bogged down due to some differing points of view over at City Hall, but we think it was worth the wait to get everyone aligned.  With the process now complete, not only can we bring this vital information to the community, but we now also have an approved template for every year going forward.

Also delayed but now nearly complete is our second budget-related website, the "People's Budget Game."  This will allow any New Orleans resident to create his/her own version of the city budget.  As part of all future budget cycles, we will engage as many residents as possible to do this -- including bringing laptops and trained volunteers to libraries, neighborhood meetings, churches, etc. -- and then provide the aggregated data to the budget staff.  We have been intentional from the beginning about making this replicable for other jurisdictions, and about making it as easy to use as possible.  Accommodating these important objectives just required more time than we had hoped, but we are doing initial testing of the site right now and at the very latest, will be able to go live with it early next year.

We are also very pleased to report that this project was selected as a finalist for this year's Greater New Orleans Foundation PitchIt! contest for nonprofit innovation, and ultimately won third place in the contest.

Another major piece of work that has gone well is the Participatory Budget (PB) process we are doing with partners in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward.  The first majorcomponent of this was the Lower Nine Resilience Festival, which took place on August 29, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  The event went off extremely well.  In addition to raising the first seed money for the PB process, the Resilience Fest also served to promote some unity and healing in this very damaged section of our city.  This conversation is ongoing, as is the fundraising for the PB process.

Another project that is in that 95th percentile of completion is our Residents Guide to City Government.  The latest and most ambitious of our community information guides, the Guide is now in final proofreading stages before going to press.  The publication will provide a huge amount of information to residents about the workings of city government, with a focus on being able to determine exactly who residents need to talk to (and how to contact them) in order to access specific programs, services, permits, etc.  With a bit of luck on the timing, this could be the hottest holiday present in the city!

Finally, the New Orleans Media Group (nola.com, The Times-Picayune) did a substantial story on the status of civic engagement in New Orleans, pointing out the inadequacies of city government's performance in this area.  CBNO President Keith Twitchell was cited extensively in the article.  Several of the subsequent online comments endorsed the content and made the connections between quality civic engagement mechanisms and other critical components of civic life such as voting.

As we look ahead to the holiday season and year end, we are really gratified by the amount of community involvement we have experienced throughout the year, on so many levels and in so many ways.  The ultimate goal of civic engagement is to create a truly informed and empowered community, and from our vantage point, progress on this is palpable.  It is nice to have specific accomplishments, like the budget websites and the Residents Guide -- after all, these are the tangible milestones that enable us to continue marching forward -- but nothing is more rewarding than hearing ever louder the voice of the people.  On that note, thank you for your incredibly valuable support this year; we wish you a joyous holiday season and a fulfilling new year!

Links:

Aug 20, 2015

August 2015 Project Report

It is a time both somber and celebratory as we approach the ten-year anniversary of the arrival of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent failure of the federal levee system that devastated New Orleans.

We celebrate the fact that so much has been done here.  The city has a vitality that is simply remarkable.  We have become one of the top entrepreneurial cities in the United States, a spirit that grew out of having to do so much of our rebuilding ourselves.  Many areas of New Orleans look much better than they did before the flooding.

We are somber because there are still so many residents that are not included in the progress.  There are still neighborhoods struggling deeply.  And we remember so many who perished, and so many who remain displaced.

The CPP project has had a good summer.  In response to repeated requests from us, Mayor Landrieu moved his annual Budget Town Hall meetings to earlier in the budget cycle; while we still do not think that these really provide substantial community input opportunities, at least they are taking place before most decisions have been finalized.  And we have some indication that the administration is open to a significant rethinking of how these sessions are conducted.

We received word today, after months of delay, that the city is ready for us to launch the Big Easy Budget Breakdown website.  This site will provide city budget to actual numbers going back to 2007, which will provide a real insight as to how the city collects and spends money.  And we also today reviewed progress on our next tech-based project, putting the Peoples Budget Exercise online; this project is actually slightly ahead of schedule and will be ready to launch this fall.

We have formally rolled out our Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP) facilitation service, which will do a lot to make sure that NPP meetings are productive for residents, neighborhoods and the business owner applicants.  As we previously reported, the NPP is basically working well, but applicants need more information and support services to really get the process right, which will in turn provide better information and input opportunities to neighborhoods.  And our reports will give City Planning staff more complete and accurate information about community views on specific applications.

However, back to the approaching Katrina anniversary:  the single largest focus for us right now is the Lower 9th Ward Resiliency Festival.  The Lower 9th Ward was the hardest hit neighborhood when the levees failed, and remains the farthest behind in the recovery.  We have been working with organizations and individuals in this neighborhood for several months now to put on this Festival, which will showcase neighborhood musicians, artists, cooks and other cultural contributors, of which there are many.  We hope the Festival will indeed demonstrate the resiliency of this area, while also reminding city leaders of how much work remains to be done here.  And as previously reported, revenues generated by the Festival will then be used for a community-based Participatory Budgeting process.  This will of course have tremendous direct benefits to the Lower 9 residents, as they will be able to fund some recovery projects that are of importance to them; from our standpoint, the opportunity to demonstrate the community's capacity (and desire) to conduct a PB process is exceptionally valuable.  As city leaders continue to claim that New Orleans is not ready for PB, having a truly disadvantaged community fund and conduct their own PB process is incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

It is an emotional time in New Orleans, and we would be remiss if we did not express our profound gratitude to those people from all over the United States, and all over the world, who have contributed in so many, many ways to revitalization of our beloved home.  From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

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