EngagingCities
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Science for New York (Sci4NY) is a group of scientists who volunteer our skills to translate technical and analytical information into meaningful, policy-focused recommendations aimed at increasing the well-being of the city and its residents.

One project mapped publicly available data and public input from New York City’s 59 community boards to highlight science-related inequities across the neighborhoods. Your community might be most concerned about sunny day flooding, broadband availability for remote learning, or access to more medical care. Neighborhoods with lower numbers in key socioeconomic metrics had multiple issues that could benefit from scientific support. Our goal was to use the map as science policy outreach to City Council candidates and community organizers.

We reached these key stakeholders through 21 in ’21, an organization striving to achieve gender parity in the New York City Council through the 2021 city elections. Sci4NY hosted a summer workshop series for its members on how science-based issues including COVID-19, climate change, health, and STEM education impact New York City. The most important lesson we learned from this engagement activity is that our ability as scientists to meaningfully and rapidly identify and synthesize data is very valuable to candidates working to address these issues in their local communities. Currently we are providing support to candidates and community organizers in areas such as maternal and newborn health disparities, green roofs, urban farming, foster care, and climate equity. 

Beyond the projects related to the science policy map, Sci4NY has piloted a number of other collaborative projects in the city. These include: lending technical input on pesticide legislation; better ways to improve composting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and ways to identify climate change knowledge gaps in order to improve community resiliency. We also worked to bring local policymakers and scientists together at events to learn from each other and simply interact more.

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Decentralization in Nepal has given local governments a new level of decision-making power and accountability to citizens. But their limited resources and experience have been a major hurdle to governing effectively. The government of Dhangadhi, the gateway to Nepal’s far west, has improved oversight of one of the city’s biggest budget items, small-scale infrastructure, by introducing new transparent policies, digitizing its processes and creating new channels to engage citizens and seek their feedback on project performance. The reforms have allowed engineers to generate contracts easily and remotely. Officials can make evidence-based decisions based on analytics from the new data system. Residents can alert authorities to issues in real-time and get problems promptly fixed too.

The reform was part of a larger public financial management program being carried out in Dhangadhi called Sustainable use of Technology for Public Sector Accountability in Nepal (SUSASAN). Run by the Canadian development organization CECI, it aims to help the newly created local governments to increase accountability to their communities. They worked with social entrepreneurs from YoungInnovations to build a series of civic tech tools that make public information more accessible to citizens. YoungInnovations also had experience building a tool to monitor government contracts at the central level, which they developed with the support of the Open Contracting Partnership. The team believed a similar approach could be applied successfully at the local level in Dhangadhi.

They were right. With the help of these three organizations, the Dhangadhi government has established a new data-driven approach to managing small-scale infrastructure projects. Its cornerstone is a digital platform, called the Infrastructure Management System (IMS), which allows the municipality to know at all times whether projects are being completed on time, on budget and to their specifications. 

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In May, more than 1,000 residents signed a petition asking to install bike lanes along "the Main Street of Texas." The following month, the Austin City Council passed the measure and announced the creation of temporary bike lanes along Congress, between Riverside Drive and 11th Street.

Earlier this week, the City of Austin announced the bike lanes will become permanent. The traffic cones and plastic markers installed to designate the lanes will be replaced with flexible delineator posts and parking stops to create a physical barrier between cyclists and vehicles. 

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Last week, the City of Toronto launched something called BigArtTO. A public art extension of a pandemic-borne community-engagement plan (ShowLoveTO), it's not a festival exactly. The city goes with the phrase "city-wide public art celebration," and in execution it means that art (by Toronto artists) will be projected onto walls throughout all 25 wards, with each piece appearing for four nights only.

"These are memorable moments for people to fall upon," says Joe Sellors, project manager of BigArtTO and Year of Public Art at the City of Toronto. Last week, outdoor gatherings in the region were reduced to 25 people. Even Nuit Blanche is going online this year, and the ban on city events will likely be extended through winter. BigArtTO doesn't fill the gap, exactly, but it does aim to bring a bit of art, a bit of spectacle and a bit of hope to Torontonians by potentially reaching them where they live.

Sellors says the project got rolling this summer, as an extension of the Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild (TORR). "[We were] trying to create projects or opportunities for people in their neighbourhoods to get outside, leave their homes and still feel safe."

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The eagerly awaited report from the UK’s first-ever nationwide citizens’ assembly on climate change launched earlier this month. Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six select committees of the House of Commons. It bought together 108 UK citizens over 6 weekends to provide recommendations on the question: “How should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?”

Citizens’ assemblies are the latest in a long line of research and advocacy on deliberative forms of democracy. Such processes bring together groups of citizens reflective of a wider population to learn about, discuss, and provide recommendations on how to address important issues. After decades of experimenting with these processes on environmental and science-related issues, it is heartening to see them enter the mainstream.

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As we approach the U.S. Census Bureau’s Sept. 30 deadline, we asked Latinx immigrants in three South Side neighborhoods — Back of the Yards, Pilsen and South Chicago — about the census and listened to their fears, hopes and the resources they want in their communities.

 

Whether or not they participate in the decennial count, many want their neighborhoods improved, and ultimately their communities recognized. And that can become very personal. 

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A group of eighth grade middle school students is raising money to purchase and preserve land along the Nonesuch River in Saco.

"I have taught for 15 years and rarely in my experience have I met a group of students so dedicated to the ideas to better their community." said teacher Andrew Ferch.

Ferch is helping to guide this group through this very ambitious project. The Sebago Eight is teaming with the Saco Valley Land Trust to raise $70,000 to purchase an eight-acre parcel of private land along the Nonesuch River in Saco to forever preserve.

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The Civic Tech Innovation Network hosted the ‘Amplifying African Women’s Voices Through Tech’ webinar with speakers from around the continent using civic tech and tech for women and girls.

Speakers discussed a variety of topics including the importance of involving women in decision making and highlighted how tech can be used as a tool for activism and as a way to amplify marginalised voices in Kenya. They also discussed the importance of providing technology training and coaching programmes for female entrepreneurs. 

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The City of Sacramento has launched a new website and community outreach-campaign to assist local residents and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with a special focus on supporting diverse and hard-to-reach populations.
SacramentoCOVIDrelief.org hosts easy-to-access information about all City programs and resources created from CARES Act coronavirus relief funds, as well as other local services and health information.

“This new website provides a one-stop shop for community members, workers, businesses and nonprofits who need help during this pandemic,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “I’m proud of our City for putting our $89 million in CARES Act funding out to work in our community in such a meaningful way, and for using a small part of it to create this central source of information and enlist the help of our community-based organizations to educate residents about all of the programs available to them.”

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After three years of work, the Southside neighborhood has its new community plan.

The plan was developed through a collaborative effort between residents of the Southside and the city and may shape the future of development and infrastructure projects in Southside for years.

The plan, which was unanimously passed by the Flagstaff City Council last week, represents a significant step in the right direction in the city’s relationship with the Southside and its residents, said Deb Harris, president of the Southside Neighborhood Association.

The neighborhood association worked closely with the city to organize resident input into the plan.

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A new community engagement van is set to roll through Norwalk neighborhoods, the Norwalk Police Department announced on Thursday.

The customized Ford van was purchased with a federal Choice Neighborhood Grant in cooperation with the Norwalk Housing Authority and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

 

According to officials, the Choice Neighborhoods program "leverages public and private dollars to support locally driven strategies and solutions that revitalize neighborhoods with input from community leaders, residents, and other stakeholders."

The new van fits right into that mission. Its primary function will be "to encourage neighborhood-police interaction by allowing police officers to bring their office to the community," officials said.

"The van embodies the core components of our mission statement: providing quality service to our diverse Norwalk community, fostering a cooperative spirit with our citizens and community partners, and working to promote an environment that is safe."

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The first of four listening sessions to address police and community relations, criminal justice, and other concerns in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake drew about 40 people whose concerns focused on inequities and racism Sunday.

Those who spoke in the audience, which was diverse in its makeup, had two minutes each to address a number of suggested questions during the forum held at Journey Church. 

Those attending were asked to consider what they like or love about the city, their feelings of the events over the past several weeks following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, their concerns and fears about the protests and riots, and what they want to share about how to move forward.

They were also asked to consider what they would do to bring about “healing and unity” in Kenosha.

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With a lack of community events in Riverfront Park due to COVID-19, an art installation at the U.S. Pavilion is providing a chance for community connection.

 

“With COVID, we were struggling to find ways to meaningfully engage with the community,” said Jonathan Moog, director of Riverfront Park.

 

Each wall is created by local residents who want to make a space in their community to restore perspective and share more with one another,” the project’s website reads. “Each wall is a tribute to living an examined life.”

 

“Riverfront over the last year or two has been engaging with new types of events,” Moog said. “These are what we call community engagement events, and they’re usually smaller scale than the mega events we have in the park.”

 

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Chalk the Walk encourages members of the community to use chalk to brighten up their neighborhoods with drawings that anyone can see.

 

A committee of neighborhood leaders selected the winners of the first four categories. The “people’s choice” category was open to a public vote online.

 

The voting may have ended, but you can still participate in Chalk the Walk. Use sidewalk chalk to share an uplifting or fun message in your neighborhood. Share it with us on social media by using the hashtag #ChalkTheWalkOP.

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Residents of Hilltop, Tacoma, know what they want—attainable homes, space for Black-owned businesses, and a voice in the future of their neighborhood. Forterra is listening.

 

Last February Forterra, Fab-5, and the newly formed Hilltop Community Investment Council met for the first time. This 12-member group of teachers, artists, social workers, business leaders, elders, and neighbors came together to advise Forterra on the creation of attainable homes and business space on the site of a former Rite Aid in the heart of Hilltop, a historically Black neighborhood in Tacoma. 

 

Brendan Nelson of Fab-5, a local nonprofit that works with youth and has led community conversations around Hilltop’s future development, gathered them close and asked how it felt to be in this space. Their response—two conflicting emotions—reflected the frustration of a community left out of the conversation about its own future: sadness at this neighborhood blight and hope for the reclamation of the space for the community.

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Supervisor Solis authored a motion directing relevant County Departments to solicit stakeholder feedback and identify best practices to shape street vending regulations in unincorporated areas of LA County.

 

As a result, the County:

  • Held 16 meetings with brick-and-mortar business owners and sidewalk vendors;
  • Solicited over 1,200 survey results from stakeholders;
  • Researched best practices of government agencies throughout the country, and
  • Reviewed current County policies and codes that impact sidewalk vending.

 

Community partners expressed an eager willingness to work with the County to carry out this new program and applauded Supervisor Solis for her leadership.

 

“This new program could change the lives of vendors across LA County,” said Rudy Espinoza, executive director of Inclusive Action for the City. “Investing in a holistic approach to formally engaging these businesses in our economy is a historic move from the Supervisor.”

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UN-Habitat and the Nairobi City County Government released the Nairobi City County Public Space Inventory and Assessment Report this month. It offers us several reasons to start deeply reflecting on our cities and ourselves.

 

 

Public spaces in Nairobi largely remain under-protected, underdeveloped and inaccessible especially by people with disabilities, women and children. A mere 46 of 826 public spaces are in the 130 informal settlements where over sixty per cent of Nairobians live. Just under half of all public spaces are too noisy or dirty from uncollected garbage to be places of serenity. All of Nairobi’s green public spaces together is still 10-15 per cent less than the global average for successful cities. We cannot leave this to the Environment Ministry, Nairobi Metropolitan Services and the County Government of Nairobi to fix. 

 

Citizens and civic groups should speak up and demand the reclamation of all the public spaces listed in the report.

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With COVID-19 still in the headlines, gathering 8,000 people together for a good time just isn’t the thing this year. So for 2020, Día de los Muertos is entering NextLight’s turf and going virtual! The Longmont Museum’s annual celebration, sponsored by NextLight and Longmont Power & Communications, will still have everything you’ve come to expect – artwork and altars, history and memories, music and dance – through the power of your internet connection and the help of a celebration kit picked up curbside at the museum. (And yes, nobody’s forgotten the sugar skulls!) 

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The Bolingbrook community continues to support the "Eat in Bolingbrook" and "Shop Bolingbrook" initiatives. Both groups strictly follow a very positive and supportive #ShopLocal, #EatLocal, and #ShopBolingbrook message. With a combined membership now of over 5,000 local consumers, the groups are a free way for residents, restaurants, and businesses to interact with each other during a time when businesses are stressed, to say the least. Together, residents and community leaders want these businesses to be there for them on the other side of this pandemic. Together, they can safely make this happen. 

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Lapis Homes is joining forces with the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network (GVPN) to bring 300 copies of Happy City by Charles Montgomery to the region’s little free libraries.

 

Happy City takes a look at neighbourhoods around the world and teaches readers about fostering connected and joyful communities through urban design. Montgomery’s book was influential for Lapis owner Ryan Jabs, showing how Lapis Homes could contribute to making happier communities in Greater Victoria.

 

This book “embodies the goals of our network and the city’s little free libraries – to build community and create connections that make people happier,” said Ray Straatsma, chair of the GVPN board.

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Upcycling, often of old furniture, wooden pallets or industrial materials, has been popular for some years with many “hipster” public spaces, restaurants and cafes recycling old materials in their construction or interior design. Yet consumer access to these markets and used materials is underdeveloped and often perfectly good surplus or used materials go unused because of a lack of investment and infrastructure in this market. It’s simply much easier to nip down to the hardware store and pick up the new, unused materials you need. This gap is one that the circular economy approach of the House of Materialisation aims to close.

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Huntington Beach City Council members on Tuesday extended the closure of certain blocks downtown for pedestrian use and restaurants’ outdoor dining operations through the end of the year – a coronavirus pandemic policy that’s overhauled the urban aesthetic of cities across Orange County and the U.S.

 

Even with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders this week that allow restaurants to somewhat resume indoor dining service, Huntington Beach officials cited the success of downtown’s outdoor overhaul in attracting business and moved forward with keeping the status quo.

 

But with that extension, council members also indicated another conversation is looming for their city and many others in the near future: a debate on whether to make it all permanent. Councilman Patrick Brenden said the idea calls for more public engagement and surveys.

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This critique of the “smart city” movement says while big data and new technology make bold promises about solving urban problems, they not only fall well short of solutions, but actually can end up making things worse.  
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Claire Weisz of WXY and David Seiter of Future Green discuss how to incorporate sociocultural and political realities when undertaking master plans for the fast-developing South Bronx.

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This article compiles 60 international public participation models dating back fifty years to Sherry R. Arnstein’s influential ‘Ladder of Citizen Participation’.

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