Cities around the world grant neighborhoods control of local decision-making. People living on a street know it best. In these cities, neighborhoods solve small problems, engage in place-making initiatives, and plan for future changes and programming, based on the community’s needs and choices. Not only are these neighborhoods empowered in local decision-making, but they also have budgets and staffs to implement their plans.
Minneapolis has seventy 501(c)(3) neighborhood associations, all independent from the city, complete with a neighborhood-elected board of directors. Each association receives funding from both the city and individual donors; influences city plans, policies, procedures, programs and services; and identifies and acts on neighborhood priorities.
These associations have done everything from improve waste management to implement local art projects, such as the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization’s “Paint the Pavement.” Supported by general city funds, specific Neighborhood Revitalization Funds and private donors, this Neighborhood Organization worked with 100 local volunteers to create a pavement mural that “slowed traffic, built community and showed an appreciation for art.”
London has a borough system that is fully independent of the Greater London Authority. Each borough receives funding from the central government and provides most neighborhood services, including trash collection, park maintenance, and local road improvements. By doing simple things – maintaining some of the cleanest London streets, planting more trees, regularly repainting yellow lines at intersections and introducing clear signage – the Borough of Hackney is now considered the most pleasant place to live in the city.
In 2004, San Francisco passed a Community Benefit Ordinance that gave the city the authority to create special assessment districts. These districts “create a localized framework for the city to provide services focused on landscaping, improvements and maintenance in public realm areas.” Using this framework, the city recently created Green Benefit Districts (GBD’s) to cover residential areas. GBD’s have their own Board of Directors, staff and funding. In the first ever GBD covering Dogpatch and Northwest Potrero, the property owners voted to assess themselves $.095 per square foot to fund public space improvements. This funding covers supplemental maintenance and small scale projects. On more ambitious projects, the GBD has the capacity to raise outside money and to work with city agencies. Within two years, the GBD renovated Fallen Bridges Park; transformed a dangerous, littered street with new street trees and revised parking rules; and created a footpath through an old grove.
In Minneapolis, London and San Francisco, local stakeholders are included, empowered, and engaged in civic life, resulting in effective and efficient problem-solving and enhanced quality of life.