Atlanta's once-innovative system for citizen engagement faces big changes
Oh, and money. They desperately need more funding. When the NPUs first met, their internal office had 18 dedicated staffers (federal funding helped). Today, it has four. Atlanta’s once-innovative program to include residents in the decision-making process about big-picture issues affecting their city needs a complete overhaul, according to a three-year study by a local champion for civic engagement.
Why it matters: It should be a critical avenue for regular folks to weigh in on long-term planning visions and policies like affordable housing, density, cash bail reform and climate change.
- Called the Neighborhood Planning Unit system, the 25 resident-led groups — each named after a letter in the alphabet — aren't always equipped with the tools or information to shape policy, according to the Center for Civic Innovation.
- In some cases, NPUs have become a check-in-the-box for a project or proposal. Some don't have the resources, training or available hours to push back or lobby properly.
- A rebooted NPU system could become a laboratory for smart policies and projects to inform residents about city government.
The backdrop: Since their creation in 1974, NPUs have evolved into their own unique identities.
- Some are run with military-style efficiency, others drag because of bickering among members.
- Some restrict voting privileges to property owners, or require members to have attended a specific number of meetings in the past year to cast a ballot.
How to fix it: CCI’s 10-point recommendation list urges the city to renew NPUs purposes and goals and raise awareness about their work.
- Oh, and money. They desperately need more funding. When the NPUs first met, their internal office had 18 dedicated staffers (federal funding helped). Today, it has four.
Yes, but: Terry Ross, a longtime leader of NPU T, which covers West End, Ashview Heights, and other communities, tells Axios he agrees the city needs to provide funding to assist training and professional services — but believes that NPUs must remain autonomous.
What’s next: CCI hopes City Council will adopt its recommendations before the end of 2021 and finish the reforms in time for the NPU system’s 50th birthday in 2024.
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