Think fast. Name five problems in your neighborhood. Now list the steps you’ve taken to address them.
If you’re like me, as most Californians are, you can easily rattle off a list of issues ranging from potholes to lack of public parks, but when it comes to listing the action you’ve taken to improve your neighborhood, you have probably done little more than complain to friends and family.
For a number of reasons ranging from our busy schedules to a lack of trust, we have become increasingly disinvested in our neighborhoods. We have also grown accustomed to expecting local government to solve problems and to complain when they don’t, yet only a small percentage of us are civically engaged.
Have you attended a city council or neighborhood council meeting in the last month?
Enter Neighborland; a New Orleans based nonprofit seeking to reopen up the lines of communication between neighbors and their elected leaders. The have created a social media tool to bring communities back together by providing a space to share ideas focused on city planning and civic participation.
According to the co-founders, they are “providing residents, neighborhood organizations, economic development groups, and municipalities with a powerfully simple platform to connect and make good things happen.”
By signing up for an account, people can share insights for their city, support their neighbor’s ideas, and connect with others that share similar interests. The community identifies achievable goals and discusses how best to accomplish them. A community facilitator then takes the crowdsourced ideas to the city’s decision makers. But it all starts by answering the simple question: “I want ____ in my neighborhood.”
Two weeks ago Alex Pandel of San Francisco posted her recommendation for a pedestrian countdown crosswalk light on Hayes Street crossing Van Ness. Eight of her neighbors support the idea and one has even posted the steps to request the change through 311.org.
It’s too early to tell how effective this new channel for civic engagement will be, but it is a welcome step in the right direction. This bottom-up approach to improving our cities will hopefully increase participation by allowing folks to advocate for ideas without having to attend a number of meetings. At the very least, it will empower communities to take action and simplify collaboration between residents and the folks that run the cities they live in.
We can’t continue to place all the blame on local government; we all need to take a more active role in our communities as well as the political process. How can we hold our elected leaders accountable to resolve problems in our neighborhood if we don’t raise our voices to tell them what the community wants?