The Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) was established in 1990 to empower local residents in the process of revitalizing inner city neighborhoods, allowing them to take an active role in setting priorities, designing projects, and overseeing their implementation.
Problems and Purpose
The Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) was established jointly by the Minnesota state legislature and the Minneapolis city council in 1990 to revitalize inner city neighborhoods. The NRP represented a procedural innovation, with a focus on empowering local residents to set priorities, design projects, and undertake implementation.
Although the downtown Minneapolis commercial area was experiencing a boom in the late 1980s, many inner-city neighborhoods were facing serious decline. Residents were leaving inner-city areas in response to dilapidated housing stock, deteriorating school quality and increasing crime rates.
The NRP was initiated after the election of a new administration in the 1984 city election, a result attributed in part to the mobilization of neighborhood constituencies. The purpose of the NRP was to stem and reverse the residential exodus, by means of delegating revitalization planning and authority to residents. It was anticipated that this process would improve the design and delivery of public services, improve cooperation between city agencies, increase the capacity of local residents and revitalize the social fabric of the area.
Background History and Context
Mounting political pressure to improve the city's residential areas derived from the increasingly stark contrast between the booming downtown commercial area and the degraded neighborhoods.
Following the change in administration after the 1984 city election, an emerging coalition of new council members and mobilized local constituencies organized a series of task forces to investigate the causes and possible solutions to the evident urban decay. This diagnostic work predicted over $3 billion would be needed to fund a serious revitalization program. As this amount significantly exceeded the city's budget for revitalization work, councilors and constituents began to consider how delegated planning authority might better leverage the energies and abilities of the residents themselves.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) was established as a joint initiative by the Minnesota state legislature and the Minneapolis city council in 1990. $20 million a year was dedicated to the project over a 20-year period (in two equal ten-year phases), bringing the total dedicated funding to $400 million.
Funds for the NRP were generated from tax increment financing (TIF) on the downtown commercial district, rather than from dedicated funds in the city budget.
Funding was provided by the NRP to all 81 neighborhoods regardless of economic status, as a strategy to foster inclusion and a basis for political support across the city. A progressive allocation formula was developed to ensure funds were allocated where they are most needed.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Most of the planning work was undertaken by individuals elected in each neighborhood to the NRP's steering committee. In conjunction with the local neighborhood organizations, the steering committee set up outreach and consultative activities to identify issues that needed to be addressed.
Neighborhoods were divided into three categories according to level of deprivation: a) protection neighborhoods were judged relatively better off and in no immediate danger of tipping b) revitalization neighborhoods were judged substantially sound, but at risk of decline without intervention c) redirection areas were judged already in decline and needed stronger intervention.
In order to participate in the NRP, neighborhoods were required to establish a resident organization as a 501c(3) corporation to coordinate planning, oversee the implementation of projects and work with city departments. Neighborhoods were also required to formulate a “Participation Agreement” with the NRP central office that set out how community engagement would take place.
Methods and Tools Used
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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The NRP steering committee worked in conjunction with local neighborhood organizations to set up outreach activities for the identification of issues that need to be addressed.
Advice was solicited from residents through mail-in surveys, face-to-face meetings, and focus groups with underrepresented groups (including the elderly, minorities, renters, youth, and business representatives).
Neighborhood Action Plans (NAPs)
Steering committees were required to detail how specific projects would meet residents’ needs and priorities, as well as costs and how these will be covered in a "Neighborhood Action Plan" (NAP). NAPs typically also addressed how identified costs would be covered (for example, through program funds, volunteer labor or the leveraging of additional resources.)
As a rule, NAPs were drafted in close collaboration/negotiation with city departments to ensure feasibility, costs, and timing assessments are accurate. Indeed, interested agencies often contributed funding from their own budgets to support the process of NAP development.
Vetting and Approval of NAPs
NAPs were first vetted and approved at the local general neighborhood meeting. After this stage, they were then passed to the central NRP office and city council for final approval and resource appropriation.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
On average, the NAP planning phase lasted 3.2 years from inception to final plan approval. During this period, resident volunteers were required to familiarize themselves with a range of technical and substantive skill sets, including knowledge of city rules, negotiation strategies and co-ordination skills. Residents were encouraged to stay involved during the implementation phase of the projects outlined in each NAP by monitoring the city departments contracted to complete these projects.
As of 1999, a total of 4775 home improvement grants and loans were released to home owners under the NRP. 675 rental units were built or renovated.
Homeownership rates in Minneapolis increased, especially in neighborhoods classified in the "redirection" designation. In addition, housing prices increased from 1990-92 to 1996-98 across all neighborhood types, most especially in the "protection" category.
Overall, the next largest city-wide spending category after housing was economic development (over $22 million), which included funds for: enhancing streetscapes, parking improvements, activities to revitalize commercial corridors, and the creation of new businesses and employment for residents.
The NRP also strengthened neighborhood organizations across the city by providing them with funding and an institutionalized role in planning. Many organizations began to operate with paid staff out of dedicated offices.
City-wide, residents reported an enhanced sense of community and civic spirit.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Some critics have argued that NRP unfairly favors homeowners [...] However, Fagatto and Fung argue that as a portion of investment, this impression may be exaggerated because many homeowner-oriented expenditures passed through revolving loan funds where initial allocations were repaid and reinvested as new loans several times over.
Others have referred to the NRP as "a white homeowners’ thing" because of the predominant role of this section of the community in the neighborhood organizations. Ultimately, given the long timeframes and amount of volunteer time required, it appears elected committee membership was more attractive to permanent residents with an existing capital investment in the neighborhood.
Elected committee membership also required a relatively high level of "skilling up" for new members, with skills difficult to transfer between participants. Informal expertise could conceivably have created substantial barriers to new participants.
Finally, given small proportion of active participants exercising delegated authority, may question legitimacy of decisions made by elected committee members.
 Elena Fagotto and Archon Fung: "Empowered Participation in Urban Governance: The Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30.3 (Sept 2006). https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.689.693&rep=rep1&type=pdf