One of just a few Citizen Participation Programs in the United States, the New Orleans CPP model was, itself, created through a participatory process. The CPP offers a 'top layer' of communication between existing governing structures and neighbourhood associations.
Problems and Purpose
Hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city of New Orleans in the State of Louisiana, in the United States, needed a formal citizen participation structure. 80% of the city had to be rebuilt, thus requesting a lot of decisions that would impact the life of communities. Citizen engagement was strong, but trust in government was very low. After studying other cities’ participation programs, the Committee for a Better New Orleans, a non-profit, organised a process to design a participatory structure adapted to the city. This designing process included 200 citizens, representing the demography and geography of New Orleans. In September 2010, the Citizen Participation Program (CPP) model was released.
Background History and Context
Before the storm, in 2002, the City Planning Commission (CPC) of New Orleans, asked the Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO), a non-profit organization, to develop a formal citizen participation structure for New Orleans. In 2003, a background research was done by CBNO including site visits to cities in the US that had shown participation good practices, namely Portland, Chicago, Washington, and Birmingham. In 2004, public meetings were conducted to introduce citizens to participation, as well as a media forum endorsed by Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin and City Council President Oliver Thomas. An initial draft of a citizen participation program model was developed with input from more than 300 citizens. After review by the city council, a first draft was released in 2004. Pilot projects were to be developed when the storm hit.
In August 2005, the city of New Orleans in Louisiana in the United States was devastated by the powerful Katrina hurricane, and the strong flooding in the aftermath, caused by the failure of the levee system protecting the city from water. 80% of the city was flooded, and the homes and businesses of 1 million people were destroyed. Citizen engagement was very strong after the event and a way for the city to recover. The rebuilding process required new housing, repair of infrastructure, public as well as private buildings such as streets, schools, hospitals, businesses, land zoning of flooded areas, that had an important impact on the daily lives of citizens. More citizens of New Orleans wanted to engage voluntarily in the decision processes.
Furthermore, citizens did not trust elected and public officials anymore after the hurricane, as assistance from government did not arrive for recovery until several months after the event. This type of event is not new for Louisiana and New Orleans which have a hurricane season every year and has already been devastated by floods three times befor. The distrust on behalf of the African American population was high and rumours spread among citizens. Some citizens said that one of the canal levee that broke and flooded the area, the Industrial Canal levee, was broken, on purpose in order to flood the Ninth Ward and save the parts of the city where the white communities were most present. CBNO, Committee for a Better New Orleans, organization that has existed since 1971, advocated for a citizen participation program to rebuild trust and ensure that recovery of the city would match the needs and quality of life of the communities. The program would enable citizens to participate in the city's decision-making, and give government officials a way to communicate with people.
Post-Katrina, CBNO advocated for a large citizen role in planning for recovery, along with other organizations. City officials did not follow this idea but agreed on a public process for recovery planning, the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) in which AmericaSpeaks participated. The final UNOP document in 2007 included a call for a New Orleans Citizen Participation Program (CPP). CBNO started again to develop a new model for the CPP. The one from the time before the storm was abandoned, as it was no longer reflecting the needs and more citizens wanted to engage in the city’s life.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Committee for a Better New Orleans, designer of the Citizen Participation Program of New Orleans, celebrates its 51st Anniversary in 2017. The non-profit is the result of a merger of the Civil Rights Movement and the Metropolitan Area Committee. CBNO runs the Participatory Budgeting NOLA campaign and works to implement the Citizen Participation Plan. CBNO did not receive funding for the creation of the system nor its operation. The city funded instead the Neighborhood Engagement Office, that works closely with CBNO however. Accountability procedures for these funds are planned within the CPP.
The CPP is still a project and its estimated annual budget is USD $2 million. These funds controlled by the District Councils and citizen members, would pay for the organization, information processes, capacity building and support. As part of the CPP, citizens said they would prefer a dedicated budget outside of the city’s general fund or annual budget. The funds would come from financial resources of the city but not its own funds. Those would come from developers through the tax they pay when applying for a project at the town hall, and a property tax mileage.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The CPP works on a structure based on Neighborhood Associations, Communities of Interest, a District Council, and a Community Advisory Board. The CPP system ensures that all neighborhoods in the city are represented by a Neighborhood Association which mission is to organize the participation of citizens from the neighborhood. If no Neighborhood Association is present, new associations will be created and the CPP will provide assistance both technical and financial. Registered Neighborhood Associations whose meetings fail to attract a significant and representative proportion of the neighborhood’s residents must show how they are taking steps to involve neighborhood residents in local decision-making outside of regular meetings. These associations are entitled to support from the CPP system to support democratic decision-making outside of meeting spaces.
District Councils will be associations of multiple Neighborhood Associations. Their boards will be comprised of representatives from the neighborhoods, selected by those neighborhoods. District Councils will be established for each of the 13 planning districts. Neighborhood Associations registered in the CPP are entitled to send a representative(s) to the District Council within which their neighborhood is located, and to participate fully within that District Council. Each Neighborhood Association has a written procedure for selecting a delegate(s) to the District Council Board. District Councils individually determines the number of delegates Neighborhood Associations will contribute to the District Council Board. Registered Neighborhood Associations shall be entitled to receive notice and participate in public meetings of any citywide Community of Interest Coalition of their choosing.
Communities of Interest are a structure to include the greatest number of citizens into the participation programs and are groups of individuals who come together based on shared socio-cultural, faith, business, or political interests rather than according to their specific geographical location. They can be advocacy groups, arts and cultural associations, senior groups, athletic clubs, business associations, ethnic groups, faith groups, worker groups, non-profit service providers, professional associations, and research organizations. Many people in New Orleans indeed do participate in community but do not participate at the neighborhood level. Communities of Interest also have particular information and expertise that are highly valuable to neighborhood associations. The diversity of participants and communities is supported by the CPP by building partnerships and outreach efforts. The CPP also provide opportunities for Neighbourhood Associations to increase their effectiveness in recruiting, training and retaining volunteers and leadership from diverse origins to participate in neighbourhood activities.
Resources and assistance are provided for making Neighbourhood Association accessible, such as language interpretation, sign language, translation of flyers, finding childcare options, or seeking transportation, locations accessible to people with disabilities.
Methods and Tools Used
The CPP works on a structure based on Neighbourhood Associations, Communities of Interest, District Council, and a Community Advisory Board. Citizens participate in neighbourhood associations meetings. Neighbourhood organizations are where residents gather to be informed, to discuss the issues before them, to make plans for their neighbourhoods, and to make their needs, preferences and opinions known to their government.
The CPP system ensures that all neighbourhoods in the city are represented by a Neighbourhood Association which mission is to organize citizen participation. If no association is already present in the neighbourhood, one will be created. Issues are brought to the registered Neighbourhood Associations, which are required to show compliance with general principles of democratic decision-making at meetings and to ensure valid representation of the views and perspectives of the neighbourhood as a whole.
District Councils are the second tier of the CPP and bring together all the individual neighbourhood organizations within each of the City’s official Planning Districts. The Planning Districts were chosen because they are non-political boundaries and therefore do not have be redrawn after each ten-year census. Many citizens are familiar with them as a result of the post- Katrina Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP) work. Those neighbourhoods select representatives from each part of the District, to attend the board. The boards hire their own staff, with nondiscrimination rules and no conflicts of interest.
The link between Neighbourhood Associations and Communities of Interest is done through the District Councils, which inform Neighbourhood Associations about Communities of Interest that can provide information and resources to them. Communities of Interest have the opportunity to participate in the CPP system and to provide input to city government, when there is an issue or proposal whose impact is primarily on a specific neighbourhood.
The Community Advisory Group is a 15-member group including representatives from each component of the CPP. It is used for resolving of grievances and reviews the CPP process.
Finally, the Coordinating Office is responsible for coordination of the process with the City and agencies, capacity building and providing resources, monitoring the process, and making sure the communication between each tier flows.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Public meetings were held, including visits to neighborhood and community groups, until July 2008 with the Citizen Participation Summit. The main components addressed by the program were defined at the Summit by about 150 citizens who were representing the demographics and diverse neighbourhoods of New Orleans, gathered in Actions Teams. They afterwards worked and exchanged their work during monthly meetings. Nearly 200 people participated in the work of designing the NOLA-CPP. Since after Katrina, CBNO has conducted over 100 public meetings, reached out to more than 1,800 citizens, and input on the model has been received from close to 700 additional residents via in-person and on-line surveys.
In 2008, the New Orleans City Charter was amended to give the city’s Master Plan the force of law. The opportunity was taken to include within the City Charter a system for neighborhood participation. The kind of program and name was not specified however CBNO worked with the Planning Commission on the New Orleans Master Plan, on the community engagement part and this dialogue lead to advances to the CPP model. The first draft of the new NOLA-CPP model was released in 2009, revised with input from neighborhood.
In September 2010, the CPP New Orleans model was formally submitted to the City Planning Commission. However, the funding required to implement the community engagement program planned within the Charter, did not go to CPP and the Office for Neighborhood Engagement, a new department, internal to the city was created instead. Its aim is to increase the engagement and focuses on informing citizens. In 2011 and 2012 the budget allocated to the City Planning Commission for the planning of the participation system was used by the Mayor for other means.
In 2012, a first part of the CPP, was however adopted by the city. The “Early Notification System” requires projects and proposals from the government and the private sector to be introduced to residents, neighborhoods and other stakeholders in the area they will impact before the beginning of the permitting process. CBNO works now closely with the Neighborhood Engagement Office and still advocates for the implementation of the CPP and has launched three pilot projects. The first one is a District Council project, a pilot for the implementation of the CPP structure and empowerment of communities. The second pilot is a Latino Community of Interest project, which helps starting to work on methodologies for engaging underrepresented communities. The third project is called Housing Community of Interest, and is a collaboration around the Housing issue.
The Neighbourhood Association should have a minimum of four general membership meetings per year and should be open to public. The Association has to show proof that date, time, location, agenda, and voting schedule were made public prior to the meeting, and that a reasonable amount of outreach and publicity about the meeting was conducted. Outreach can take many forms such as placing flyers in the neighbourhood, e-newsletters, community message boards, and social networking websites. Important stakeholders for voting decisions have to be contacted so that they can defend their project and provide information. The developer or agency that created a proposal to be voted on therefore has to be present when the association votes on the approval or rejection of the project.
In the CPP model, decisions are made democratically and neighbourhood associations have to show compliance to democratic principles so that the views of the neighbourhood are represented. Decisions are taken with a vote during a meeting or through a survey conducted by phone, email, or paper before the meeting. Details about formal statements concerning any issue related to the quality of life and future development of the neighbourhood, and how it was achieved, including voices against it, have to be provided by associations. Minutes are taken during meetings and are a public record, available to anyone. They reflect the conversation, and report the breakdown of votes so that the concerns of neighbourhoods are well addressed. After providing the opinions of neighbourhood residents through formal vote, neighbourhood survey or other format, boards of Neighbourhood Associations are free to express individual or dissenting opinions in public hearings and directly to government officials.
Neighbourhood Association boards may also present the results of their own votes to the city government together with the results of the general residents’ opinion. Neighbourhood Associations also have to organize internal elections for the leadership roles, and limited terms for positions. This helps preventing conflicts of interest and encouraging new leaders to emerge.
The CPP provides an opportunity for better communication and information sharing between city government, businesses and the residents of New Orleans. Communication and information sharing are improved thanks to public access to open records, and an Early Notification System that makes sure that any new development in neighbourhoods has to be notified to the CPP and neighbourhood first. Neighbourhood Associations thus should receive timely notices about developments or decisions. Decisions cannot move forward until the Neighbourhood Association has given its official view and recommendations on the matter. This does not mean, however, that a Neighbourhood will be able to delay a decision or a development forever. The Association must follow a timeline in order to make sure that the decision making process is timely and fair to all participants and stakeholders.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The City Council adopted amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, which placed the Early Notification System from the CPP into effect. Today, any public or private project that impacts the neighbourhood therefore has to be brought to the residents and local neighbourhood association. Without a notification, a meeting, and a report on the comments received, the application process cannot proceed. The neighbourhood has to approve and check the quality of life is preserved.
The whole CPP driven by communities is not yet implemented however. The funding went instead to create in 2011 a Neighbourhood Engagement Office which mission is to “explore ways to create opportunities for dialogue, information sharing, partnership, and action between city government and neighbourhood residents and leaders”. The office developed a Neighbourhood participation plan in 2012, which is a guide to implement citizen participation within the local government’s decision making. Instead of district councils, officers work to promote improved public participation and information between City government and the community stakeholders. It sets standards for any public participation process led by the city when making decisions related to quality of life, urban planning for example. It can therefore complement the CPP model, which empowers citizens on issues and agenda setting.
Even though the CPP has not been implemented. CBNO is still advocating for it by presenting the model to businesses and neighbourhoods, by evaluating the tool. Two Latino Community of interest Survey have been done with partner organization Puentes New Orleans as part of the CPP communities of interest pilot projects. A follow-up survey requested by Latino community leaders and the city Department of Health, focuses on health and education issues that Latino residents face. The Health Department has committed to using the findings to improve its capacity to deliver health information and programs to Latino residents, and CBNO and Puentes will similarly work with schools and other education organizations to improve education outcomes for Latino students. CBNO also works to reform the municipal budgeting process in New Orleans, in a formal campaign.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The New Orleans CPP is a case of direct participation of citizens in the program, designed to involve citizens in town decisions related to quality of life of neighbourhoods. It was designed so that projects are not implemented without any information to the neighbourhood or power to control the implementation. It comes at the time when the city was being rebuilt after hurricane Katrina hit, when citizens wanted to be more involved in city decisions, and when there was a major distrust of government.
Access, Representation and Participant Selection
The New Orleans model of a CPP, is the first to propose a methodology for incorporating the communities of interest into the system. The CPP offers this way new opportunity for participation to citizens who would not normally engage with the CPP. The input will come from a broader base of citizens. City government receives input from a broader base of citizens as it makes its decisions. The Neighbourhood Associations have a communication strategy that is supposed to reach the population and they have to demonstrate that they have taken sufficient outreach steps. Associations whose meetings fail to attract a significant and representative proportion of the neighbourhood’s residents must show how they are taking steps to involve neighbourhood residents in local decision-making outside of regular meetings. They would send representatives of these associations to the other participatory program boards.
Citizen Control Over Issues
The program seems to be designed to address neighbourhood associations whenever a new project is impacting the neighbourhood. Neighbourhood associations therefore respond to an issue and do not raise an ongoing issue. Any of the CPP organization can address any issue as long it is linked to the area of interest or Neighbourhood including transportation and parking, access to public records and government information, neighbourhood character, public safety, crime, zoning, economic environmental issues of a project, hazardous materials, infrastructure, education, use of taxes, city budget priorities.
The CPP includes training and capacity building for associations to make informed decisions. The training ensures that neighbourhoods not only have the opportunity to provide input, they will have the understanding to provide meaningful input. These capacity building trainings will create a CPP that is equitable and beneficial to all New Orleans neighbourhoods. The NOLA CPP model creates a formal communication structure that will reach every neighbourhood in the City as well as interested individuals and organizations. The NOLA CPP model uses District Councils and Communities of Interest to send information from City Government to neighbourhoods, community groups, and individuals. The NOLA CPP model then ensures that input from these groups and individuals are addressed by decision makers.
Impact and Influence on Final Decisions
Before implementing a project and no later than 45 days before the final decision, the city or agencies, businesses that want to implement a project must notify the CPP. The associations can answer in writing any of the proposals. The associations cannot hold a project forever however. The city can also implement the action anyway, but is required to provide a written explanation.
Community Participation Program (method)
The Unified New Orleans Plan
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City of New Orleans Neighborhood Engagement Office. (2012). Neighborhood participation plan. Retrieved from https://www.nola.gov/nola/media/Neighborhood-Engagement/Files/City-NPPBo...
City of New Orleans. (2015). Resilient New Orleans, strategic actions to shape our future. Retrieved from http://www.100resilientcities.org/strategies/neworleans/
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CBNO -Committee for a Better New Orleans. (2013). Neighborhood manual. Retrieved from https://nolacpp.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/neighborhoodmanual-final2.pdf
CBNO - Committee for a Better New Orleans. (2012). Website of CBNO Citizen Participation Program Retrieved from http://www.cbno.org/programs/citizen-participation-program/
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Miller, D., Rivera, J., (2006). Rebuilding trust in governement and public policy in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Journal of Public Management and Social policy, 36(5).
CBNO CPP Overview: http://www.cbno.org/programs/citizen-participation-program/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/NOLACPP/about/?ref=page_internal
Official Website [INACTIVE]: https://nolacpp.wordpress.com/
This case was original submitted Hélène Madénian on behalf of Nathalie Francès at the Université de Montréal