Portland, Oregon has one of the oldest and most comprehensive Citizen Participation Programs in the US. It is frequently cited as a best practice and it was one of the models for the NOLA CPP
Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement Case Study
The city of Portland, Oregon has one of the oldest Citizen Participation Programs (CPP) in the country, and it is widely regarded as one of the best. The Portland CPP was founded in 1974 as a tool for neighborhoods to provide input into land use and quality of life decision-making by the city. Since then, the Portland CPP has grown to include everything from a leadership development program, to a crime prevention center, to a liquor licensing program. The Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), which administers the Portland CPP, has a budget of $6.4 million and 37 full time employees. Portland’s ONI oversees one of the most comprehensive CPPs in the country and serves as a useful model for some aspects of the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project (NOLA CPP).
The Portland CPP evolved from an effort by the Planning Commission to get Neighborhood Association involvement in the development of neighborhood land use plans. In 1971, the city council created a task force to study the relationship between neighborhood groups and city hall. This task force recommended a structure of Neighborhood Associations and District Coalitions.
|Portland CPP Information|
|Number of Neighborhoods||95|
|Number of District Coalitions||7|
|Fiscal Year 2011 Budget||$6.4 million[ii]|
|Number of Full Time Employees||37[iii]|
In 1974, the city council created ONI and the CPP, but without the District Coalitions because of concerns that the district groups would override Neighborhood Associations’ influence. These concerns never materialized and a couple years later the District Coalitions worked their way back into the system.
Three of the seven coalitions were in place prior to 1974, so the City used them to relate with Neighborhood Associations and allocate funds to support participation. Due to their success, the City created the remaining District Coalition organizations.[iv] In the five years after the adoption of the CPP, it was amended a few times to work out the kinks in the system. Recently, however, there have not been many changes to the CPP; the last major revision was in 1997.[v]
The mission of the Portland ONI is to “promote a culture of civic engagement by connecting and supporting all Portlanders working together and with government to build inclusive, safe and livable neighborhoods and communities.”[vi] To accomplish this mission, ONI has established a system based on Neighborhood Associations. Portland has 95 Neighborhood Associations that are organized into 7 District Coalitions. Each District Coalition is a nonprofit organization, comprised of its neighborhoods.
The seven District Coalitions do not operate independently of the Neighborhood Associations. Instead, they act as directed by the neighborhoods, they facilitate Neighborhood Association actions, and they are a resource to the neighborhoods. The District Coalitions are funded by the City, but the staffs are District Coalition employees (not City employees), and they retain their autonomy from city hall.[vii]
Currently, Portland’s CPP has a three-tiered structure of Neighborhood Associations and District Coalitions that work with ONI (see the figure below), which is similar to the structure of most CPPs and to what is proposed by the NOLA CPP. In addition, Portland’s CPP has provisions for Neighborhood Business Associations and ethnic groups that operate beyond neighborhood boundaries (which is similar to the NOLA CPP’s Communities of Interest).
The purpose of Portland’s CPP structure is to increase the effective communication and information flow between citizens, neighborhoods, and government.[viii] This structure where the District Coalition (or District Council in the NOLA CPP) serves as a liaison between the neighborhoods and the city is a nationwide best practice and a model for the NOLA CPP.
Figure: Structure of Portland Citizen Participation Program
Like most CPPs in the country, the main objective of the Portland CPP is to get more involvement from neighborhoods on government decisions that affect the livability of those neighborhoods. The ONI’s Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) is central to how Portland involves the neighborhoods by funding the District Coalitions and Neighborhood Associations. In addition to and with the NRC, Portland’s ONI has a number of other programs that improve the livability of the Portland neighborhoods. These programs include the following:
- The Neighborhood Program provides outreach support, builds community partnerships, and offers technical assistance to all neighborhoods.
- The Neighborhood Leadership Trainings provide information on building neighborhood leaders, making city hall work for a specific group, land use, how to get a grant, and more.
- The Neighborhood Small Grant Program provides almost $100,000 a year in small grants to neighborhood and community groups.
- The Business Program provides assistance to Portland’s business associations.
- The Diversity and Civic Leadership Program works to expand civic opportunities for the City’s underrepresented groups (immigrants, Native Americans, etc).
- The Public Involvement Best Practices Program ensures that Portland is at the forefront of public involvement nationwide.
- The City has programs to get more involvement from elderly and disabled people.
- The Crime Prevention Program seeks to get neighbors involved in community policing efforts and to find solutions to crime problems.
- The Graffiti Abatement Program works with neighbors to identify, report, and remove graffiti.
- The Liquor License Notification Program works with neighborhoods to ensure that licensed establishments do not impact communities in a negative manner.
- The Information and Referral Program helps simplify access to government and community services.
Portland’s CPP goes beyond the scope of traditional CPPs to address specific issues that are important to the community. The Portland CPP is one of the most comprehensive CPPs in the nation because it includes programs like graffiti abatement, crime prevention, and liquor license notification programs that are not in the CPPs of most other cities in the county. As a result, the Portland CPP is a good model for how expansive a citizen participation program can be.
Portland CPP Success Story
In the mid-1970s, the Oregon Department of Transportation proposed building the Mt. Hood Freeway, a highway that would divide many existing East Portland neighborhoods. Citizens and the local government used the Portland CPP to review this proposal and suggest alternatives. The input gathered through this process showed that citizens were opposed to the highway project and wanted the money to be used to expand public transportation. TriMet, the Portland area transportation authority, proposed reallocating the money to create a light rail line that would serve those same East Portland neighborhoods. Due to the Portland CPP and citizen involvement, Portland created on of the first modern light rail networks (called the Max) in the United States. Since the 1970s, the Max system has expanded to cover many more Portland neighborhoods, and last year MAX trains carried over 38 million riders.
Portland’s CPP is one of the oldest, most comprehensive, equitable, and successful CPPs in the country. Studies have shown that Portland’s CPP system, which is based on District Coalitions, works to equalize the capacity of neighborhoods to participate in land use decisions and articulate their interests. In addition, the system helps to compensate for potential disadvantages of certain neighborhoods due to race, housing tenure, and education.[ix] As a result, Portland’s CPP promotes equity among neighborhoods in the city. The structure of Portland’s CPP is certainly a nationwide best practice and served as one of the main models for New Orleans.
[ii] City of Portland, Oregon – FY 2010-11 Adopted Budget, Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Pg 411.
[iii] City of Portland, Oregon – FY 2010-11 Adopted Budget, Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Pg 433.
[iv] The Effects of a Formal Citizen Participation Program on Involvement in the Planning Process: A Case Study of Portland Oregon. Sy Adler and Gerald Blake. State & Local Government Review, Vol 22, No 1. Pgs 37-43.
[v] City of Portland. Guidelines for Neighborhood Associations, District Coalitions, Neighborhood Business Associations, Communities Beyond Neighborhood Boundaries, Alternative Service Delivery Structures, and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. December 18, 1997. Pgs 1-26.
[vi] City of Portland, Oregon – FY 2010-11 Adopted Budget, Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Pg 413.
[vii] The Effects of a Formal Citizen Participation Program on Involvement in the Planning Process: A Case Study of Portland Oregon. Sy Adler and Gerald Blake. State & Local Government Review, Vol 22, No 1. Pgs 37-43.
[viii] City of Portland. Guidelines for Neighborhood Associations, District Coalitions… December 18, 1997. Pg 10.
[ix] The Effects of a Formal Citizen Participation Program on Involvement in the Planning Process: A Case Study of Portland Oregon. Sy Adler and Gerald Blake. State & Local Government Review, Vol 22, No 1. Pgs 37-43.