Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Non-paid citizens as providers of civic services

In commercial district revitalization, there are two basic models for organizing revitalization programs--staff driven (for a community development corporation, a business improvement district, or a government agency) or volunteer driven augmented by professional staff (the Main Street Approach).

In places with a lot of resources, the staff driven approach has the ability to be properly funded.  In smaller places, the ability to generate significant operational funds is much less likely, so you need citizen involvement in order to leverage resources.

At the level of local government, especially when there are unions, there are limited opportunities for citizens to be involved as volunteers.  Usually collective bargaining agreements forbid the use of voluntary or non-union labor to fill a function covered by positions in the union.

This will change in many places, out of financial necessity.  Going forward, in an environment when citizens aren't willing to increase their property taxes, and with real estate less likely to escalate, and in places where the local population and tax base is shrinking, there will be fewer resources available to communities.

So if people want to still have libraries and parks and other services, it may well be that residents have to step up and provide some of the person hours necessary to offer the service.
Map, state park installations in Sonoma County, California
Here are some examples.  The Sacramento Bee reports in "Unique nonprofit coalition keeps state parks open in Sonoma," about how a group of nonprofit organizations have stepped in to maintain various state parks in the county, as they are being abandoned by the State of California.  The state is closing parks, to save less than $30 million per year, not even a rounding error in the budget  ("" from the Los Angeles Times).

In Vallejo, California, a city still in bankruptcy proceedings, after significant budget and staff cuts, residents are providing more assistance for service provision.  See "Vallejo, Calif., once bankrupt, is now a model for cities in an age of austerity" from the Washington Post.  From the article:

“We’re trying to be more innovative and risk-taking,” Brown said. “It’s something we’ve been forced to do, but it’s turning out to be a really positive experience for the city.”

The police went high-tech, investing $500,000 in cameras across the city that allow officers to monitor a larger area than they could before. The department deputized citizens to participate in law enforcement by sharing tips on Facebook and Twitter.

Gomes, whose husband is a retired police officer, focused on public safety. The couple went neighborhood to neighborhood setting up e-mail groups and social media accounts so people can, for instance, share pictures of suspicious vehicles and other information. “There have been countless cases where ordinary people have stopped crimes this way,” Gomes said.

The number of neighborhood watch groups jumped from 15 to 350. Citizen volunteers came together monthly to paint over graffiti and do other cleanup work.

A comparable example, but not involving local government, is how residents in Timberlake, South Carolina found themselves having to buy the golf course and clubhouse, in order to maintain the golf club feature of their neighborhood, after the developer went out of business.  To do it on a cost-effective basis, residents are doing a lot of the maintenance work themselves.  See "Golf club members go from saving pars to saving a course " from the New York Times.  From the article:

Slinging a pickax under a blazing sun as he dug a hole behind the ninth green at Timberlake Country Club, Michael Kletter, 68, conceded that this was not the golf-course retirement life he had envisioned.

"No, I didn't dream of manual labor," Kletter, a transplanted New Yorker who is a member of the club, not its maintenance crew, said as he planted a 6-foot fern. "But the recession changed everything. The golf course was in danger of closing. It's not a golf community without a golf course. We had to do something."

So Kletter joined about 300 other Timberlake members in a consortium that bought the financially distressed country club outside Columbia, S.C. But to make the arrangement work, the members did something that would have been unheard of five years ago: They agreed to do much of the work to operate and maintain the club.

On a recent hot, weekday morning, about 35 members were on the course raking bunkers, planting grass, trimming tee boxes, weeding, digging holes for new bushes and even brandishing chain saws in a work crew that felled three ailing 50-foot trees.

Dnd something I learned in Baltimore County, when I worked in the planning office there...  In Baltimore County, programming at parks and recreation sites isn't provided by people who work for the County Department of Recreation and Parks.  Services are provided and mostly funded by  volunteers through Recreation and Parks Councils that are organized and funded by residents.  The facilities are grouped into 45 spatial units, overseen by the respective Recreation .  This happened in the 1970s, in the face of budget cuts back then.  Harford County has been moving towards that model, after seeing it work in Baltimore County.

Note I do think there are some equity and capacity issues that remain unaddressed.  The DRP doesn't provide much in the way of training resources to the committees, no Park Pride conference like in Atlanta or the Events 101 festival management training that is provided in Fairfax County, Virginia.  And low income areas find it much harder to raise monies and other resources, while the committees in higher income areas have no problem raising hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over time.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home