Insight News

Feb 09th

Miller faults mayor, Council for NRP program demise: Community engagement

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Encouraging involvement by minorities is one of the major goals of a community engagement process being developed by the city of Minneapolis. Encouraging involvement by minorities is one of the major goals of a community engagement process being developed by the city of Minneapolis.

"We need to find ways to engage more diverse communities, especially minorities and immigrants," Mayor R. T. Rybak said, and the city also needs to reach out to others who cannot attend evening meetings of neighborhood and city-wide boards, such as parents with young children and people who work nights.

The city's relationship with communities currently is centered on the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Seventy-one community organizations receive grants for a variety of local projects. These have included community centers, restoration of a historic library, a new library, home improvement programs, new housing, bike paths, assistance for small businesses, repaving and new playground equipment in parks, and many more. Some work is done in cooperation with other agencies and has additional funding sources.

"Some blacks look on it (NRP) as gentrification," Council Vice-President Robert Lilligren said. Most of the decision-makers in the neighborhood groups that get NRP funds are white homeowners, he said, and most of the people served by the program are white. Lilligren was co-chairman of the Community Engagement Task Force, which recently completed a report that will be a framework for developing better ways of informing residents and involving them in what they city does.

"The (NRP) programs are catered for a select group," said Jerry Moore, executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council, and the same is true of citywide community programs.

To change this, Moore said, outreach is needed. The people who show up for the meetings get the information and positions on the community boards. Poor and minority residents often don't know the groups exist.

The Jordan neighborhood is getting more diverse racially, with an influx of Hmong and Latino immigrants, Moore said. Poverty is high in the area, and there are more renters because of mortgage foreclosures.

Many people in these groups are hard to reach with newspapers, local government cable stations and other means through which citizens learn about community organizations. Often, people get involved because those who are already active ask them to do so. Minorities, immigrants and poor people are less likely to have these contacts.

Matt Perry, chairman of the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Organization, served as co-chairman of the task force. He said the organizations that have received NRP money have been very effective, but the city must recognize and communicate with other groups as well. Some of those were represented on the task force; they included block clubs, ethnic and cultural groups, business associations and organizations focused on specific issues.

The task force is the second part of a three-track process. The first involves internal changes the city can make so decision-making is more open and accessible to residents. The third is developing a strategy for the future of NRP after tax districts that are a major source of its funding expire in 2009.

The task force report is very general in its recommendations. For example, it suggests developing a system to allocate resources to organizations that would engage the community.

Perry said the report covers "what types of things you should do," rather than specifics on how to do them. Mayor Rybak said the next step is turning this general foundation into policy.

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