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, www.nolacpp.wordpress.com. 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.