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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