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.
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!

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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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May 28, 2015

June 2015 Project Report

Residents are rising up in New Orleans and demanding more and better opportunities for input!

One of the most damaged areas of New Orleans in the post-Katrina levee failures was the lower 9th Ward.  To this day, this area is less than 50% rebuilt.  However, those residents who have rebuilt and returned are a dynamic, motivated group.  They also feel -- with justification -- that they are very under-served by both government and the private sector.  So, while our city administration continues to tell us that the community is not ready for Participatory Budgeting (PB), a collaborative of organizations and residents from the lower 9th Ward has come to CBNO and asked us to help them conduct their own PB process.  With the tenth anniversary of Katrina approaching on August 29, this group is producing a Lower 9 Resiliency Festival, with cultural, recreational and faith activities.  The funds they raise from sponsorships, merchandise sales and the events themselves will be used to create a pool of money for the PB process.  CBNO will then guide the community through the process, culminating in a vote by lower 9th Ward residents on how they want to spend the money to improve their community on their own.  Not only is this a powerful statement about community self-determination and resiliency, we are confident that it will garner a good bit of media attention.  It will prove to our city leadership that people in New Orleans are more than ready for Participatory Budgeting, and is likely to create a demand for PB from other segments of the city.  It is so gratifying to see residents themselves take the initiative, ask for our expertise and support, and put together a shining example of community participation!  We are doing everything we can to make sure that they do raise the funds necessary for a really strong PB process.

Speaking of resiliency and community leadership, New Orleans has been selected to participate in the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities initiative, a worldwide program about building resiliency to acute shocks and chronic stresses.  While many of the other cities in this program have strong civic engagement structures, or are including them in the Resiliency Plans that are the required initial component of the program, New Orleans is once again lagging behind on this subject.  In fact, the public comment period for the Resiliency Plan will happen seven months into an eight-month planning phase, which makes clear what kind of a priority city government places on community input.  However, the Citizen Advisory Committee for the New Orleans Citizen Particpation Project has stepped up in an attempt to correct this grievous oversight.  They are in the middle of a series of meetings to design an organizing and advocacy campaign to demand that the city include a permanent, formal, inclusive structure for meaningful, comprensive community participation in the Resiliency Plan, and that the structure be based on the NOLA CPP model.  Already one of the people involved has published a very aggressive op-ed piece in our local on-line media outlet, The Lens, and the group plans to have a major presence at the public meetings in July.  In the interim, CBNO is preparing a substantial white paper that makes clear the inextricable link between civic engagement and resiliency, and the group is going to demand a meeting with the leaders of the Resiliency Plan effort to push for a commitment to meaningful community engagement in the Plan.

Despite the continued reluctance of key city leaders to embrace meaningful community engagement, New Orleanians themselves are making it ever clearer that they want their voices to be heard, and to be heard right now.  This creates an extraordinarily powerful momentum for change, and CBNO is doing everything we can to guide and support this energy.  Both lower 9th Ward Participatory Budgeting process and the Resiliency Plan are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.  To our friends and supporters out there, we welcome any comments you have on this, and hope you will join us in maximizing our ability to seize these opportunties.

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