For three days in March, we had guests from Birmingham and Atlanta to discuss their CPP. We learned a lot from our guest, and we have summarized their trip in our final report. There are two versions of this report, the full report and the two-page summary. See below for links to pdfs of these reports and for the text of the report summary.
The CPP Experience Report – Summary
The most powerful source of information is the firsthand knowledge of individuals with experience on the subject. To provide the New Orleans community with an up-close look at citizen participation programs, Neighborhoods Partnership Network (NPN) and CBNO brought community leaders from neighborhoods, businesses and government from Birmingham and Atlanta to New Orleans for a series of public events in March 2011. Birmingham and Atlanta’s programs were selected because they are successful programs, and the cities have similar history, culture, and economy to New Orleans.
Hattie Dorsey, longtime neighborhood leader, was the guest from Atlanta. The Birmingham guests included: Bernard Kincaid, former Mayor and neighborhood leader; Valerie Abbott, current City Council member and former neighborhood leader; Charlie Faulkner, former CEO of Princeton Baptist Hospital; Don Lupo, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Citizen Assistance and former neighborhood leader; Alison Glascock, President of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association; and Doris Powell, President of the Fountain Heights Neighborhood Association.
ENONAC Community Breakfast
The kick-off event for The CPP Experience was a community breakfast in New Orleans East, co-presented by Eastern New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission (ENONAC), featuring a presentation by Hattie Dorsey. Ms. Dorsey spoke about Atlanta’s struggle to prepare for the 1996 Olympics, focusing on the importance of a comprehensive approach to revitalization that recognizes the needs and assets of all geographic communities. She also acknowledged the significance of business investments in a community. Charlie Faulkner echoed this, emphasizing the benefits of investing in a community for businesses. Following the presentation was a robust Question and Answer session during which both presenters spoke about strategies to bring more businesses to New Orleans East.
City Council Meeting
Mayor Kincaid, Councilor Abbott and Don Lupo presented to City Council at their March 17 meeting. The Birmingham guests gave a brief history their CPP, outlined important aspects of their program, and described the benefits and challenges of it. They then answered a few questions from New Orleans City Council members.
Meeting with Administration Officials
All guests participated in a meeting with officials from the Mayor’s Office and one staff member of the City Planning Commission. The guests discussed their program, how it is funded, how it relates to the Planning Department, and projects that came out of their CPP. They also answered questions about funding neighborhood groups and other nonprofits, representation, and building capacity of neighborhood associations. The guests made the following key points about the success of their program: neighborhood groups need to be funded, there needs to be defined neighborhood boundaries, and there needs to be training available to neighborhood leaders.
Bureau of Governmental Research Meeting
All guests met with two staff members from the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR). There was a discussion and critique of the CPP models proposed by BGR and CBNO for New Orleans. The visitors again stressed the importance of having open, inclusive neighborhood associations with clearly defined boundaries.
Algiers Community Meeting
Closing out a busy first day for our guests was a community meeting at Woldenberg Village, co-sponsored by the Algiers Council of Neighborhood Presidents and Algiers Economic Development Foundation. Mayor Kincaid and council member Valerie Abbott spoke about their experiences coming up through the Birmingham CPP as neighborhood leaders before taking elected offices and how that experience was invaluable to their effectiveness as city officials. Alison Glascock and Doris Powell each spoke about strategies they have used to accomplish neighborhood goals. One key point emphasized by each neighborhood leader was recognizing the assets of a neighborhood, and then leveraging those assets to improve the community.
DDD Business Breakfast
Friday morning began with a breakfast for business leaders hosted by the Downtown Development District. Charlie Faulkner was the principal presenter, and spoke about working with neighborhood associations, and how the Birmingham CPP is a useful tool for business expansion, neighborhood stabilization, charitable giving, and workforce development. He stressed that businesses should see a CPP as a facilitator of business growth, not an inhibitor. Mayor Kincaid and Councilor Abbott offered the analogy that the business community, neighborhoods and government are a three-legged stool, and if they do not work together, the stool will not stand.
Meeting with Jon Johnson’s Office
While Councilmember Johnson was unable to attend this meeting in person, his Chief of Staff, Kara Johnson, engaged in a robust discussion with Mayor Kincaid, Councilor Abbot and Ms. Dorsey. Ms. Johnson expressed some of the frustrations of sorting through the various groups and individuals who claim to be representatives of, or stakeholders in, a specific neighborhood, and promoting collaboration within the Council District. The visitors discussed how their CPPs resolved these issues, built trust between citizens and government and created a stronger climate for attracting business development.
Gentilly Community Reception
On Friday afternoon, the guests went on a tour of New Orleans, then arrived at the Juju Bag Café in Gentilly for a reception, sponsored by Beacon of Hope and co-presented with Gentilly Civic Improvement Association (GCIA). The guests did not put on a formal presentation, instead engaging in small group conversations with New Orleans residents about the practical aspects of citizen participation.
Central City Town Hall Meeting
The CPP Experience culminated on Saturday morning with a Town Hall Meeting at the Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center in Central City. This meeting featured a panel discussion summarizing the guests’ perspectives on citizen participation and how the Birmingham CPP works. As they had in several other settings, the guests also emphasized the value of their CPP as tool for developing future city leadership. Based on their short time in the city, they gave their recommendations for achieving a system of strong, formalized citizen participation in New Orleans. Finally, they answered questions from New Orleans residents about effective community leadership and citizen engagement.
It is a rare thing for relative strangers to sit down together and have a dialogue about the important values of democracy, open governance, and community growth. During the Birmingham visit, our guests engaged with close to 150 New Orleans residents in four Council districts around the city on exactly these topics, and the trip would have been important if only for these conversations. Perhaps the most rewarding outcome of the visit, though, was the fresh perspective on our own city provided by the visitors. Not only were they able to speak experientially about citizen participation, they provided an unbiased perspective on the possibilities of a citizen participation program in New Orleans. By anticipating things such as the issue of neighborhood boundaries, the importance of training and capacity-building in neighborhoods, and the need to connect the Communities of Interest to the neighborhoods as strongly as possible, the guests prepped us for the somewhat daunting task that lies before our city. Talk of allocating funds to neighborhoods to initiate capital projects in Birmingham put an entirely new option on the table. Ultimately, the many examples of collaborative decision-making in both cities reminded us that an effective, formalized system citizen participation can and will be realized in our city, and showed clearly the promise of a better future that is offered by a CPP.
In achieving this, the city of New Orleans must remember the three-legged stool metaphor our guests introduced. The neighborhoods, the business community and the city government all play essential roles in the process to design and implement a citizen participation program for New Orleans. We need the strength of all three to build such a program and to support the growth of our city.
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