Government for the people
Many cities and counties are tapping into the strong affiliations residents often have with their neighborhood groups to improve the quality of life in the broader community. The programs also assist residents who need help from their local governments but may not know where to go to get that assistance.
Orlando, Fla., formed its Neighborhood Relations Department — which is now combined with the city’s Communications Department — 10 years ago to promote the creation of neighborhood associations and to make the city government more accessible for residents, says Director Michele Brennan. The department works with neighborhood associations to organize community events, hold forums at which residents can talk to city officials, and distribute information on city programs that may not be covered by the local media. “With programs that [receive state or federal funds,] if you don’t have residents partaking in the programs, you’re not going to get funding,” Brennan says.
DeKalb County, Ga., modeled its “OneDeKalb” Office of Neighborhood Empowerment, formed in 2009, partially on Orlando’s program, says the county’s Chief Executive Officer Burrell Ellis. Ellis says he formed the idea for OneDeKalb when he found that there was no department in the county dedicated to meeting the needs of average residents.
The office operates two resource centers that provide information on county services, such as code enforcement, its volunteer corps and its beautification program. It also mediates disputes between neighborhoods and developers. “The idea is that it would be a one-stop shop,” Ellis says. OneDeKalb has worked with more than 300 neighborhood associations to hold events and workshops.
Programs like Orlando’s and DeKalb County’s give people a sense of personal influence in the way their communities are run, Ellis says. “People may reside in cities and counties, but they live at the local neighborhood level, and a lot of time people feel disconnected or disempowered,” he says.
In the ‘hood
Dayton, Ohio-based Neighborhoods USA (NUSA) is a non-profit group that promotes neighborhood associations and programs such as Orlando’s and DeKalb County’s. It has 1,000 members from nearly 50 cities in 21 states and Canada. More information is available at www.nusa.org.