History of the CPP
In 2002, the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) asked the Committee for a Better New Orleans (CBNO) to take on the task of developing a formal community participation structure for New Orleans.
While a Community Participation Program (CPP) was not part of the Blueprint for a Better New Orleans, the 2001 document that guided CBNO’s work, the need to rebuild trust between citizens and government was an overarching goal of the Blueprint’s City Management section. Unquestionably, a CPP would be a powerful tool for achieving this goal.
Serving on the CBNO Board of Directors at that time was the late Dr. Peter Dangerfield, then Executive Director of Total Community Action and a leading national expert on CPPs. His eloquent advocacy convinced the Board to accept the task. At the September 2002 meeting of the Board of Directors, CBNO committed to developing the New Orleans CPP.
The organization spent all of 2003 doing background research, beginning with a large trove of materials provided by the CPC. On-line research was augmented by site visits to cities with strong CPPs like Portland (OR), Chicago, Washington (DC), and Birmingham (AL). During these visits, CBNO staff met with city officials, volunteer participants and CPP staff. In addition, CBNO staff attended numerous national conferences related to citizen engagement and participation.
In March 2004, CBNO collaborated with the Planning Commission to conduct a series of public meetings throughout New Orleans, introducing residents to the CPP concept and getting substantial input on how the New Orleans CPP should be constructed. In addition to citywide meetings and meetings in each City Council district, a media forum was conducted to further publicize the project. Mayor Ray Nagin and City Council President Oliver Thomas publicly endorsed the development of the CPP.
With input received from more than 300 residents during this process, CBNO staff developed an initial draft CPP model. After review by CPC staff, the draft model was released in fall 2004. Moving into 2005, CBNO was preparing pilot projects to test the CPP model design when Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the federal levee system interrupted work.
After the storm
Post-Katrina, CBNO advocated strongly for a large resident role in recovery planning efforts. CBNO and other groups were successful in getting the city to agree to a public process for recovery planning that eventually became the Unified New Orleans Plan (UNOP). CBNO played a major role in bringing AmericaSpeaks to the UNOP process and in doing the outreach for the second and third Community Congresses. Throughout UNOP, CBNO also reminded residents and stakeholders of the need for a Community Participation Program, and the final UNOP document included a strong and specific call for a New Orleans CPP.
As UNOP wrapped up in early 2007, CBNO again took up the task of developing the New Orleans CPP. The pre-storm model was largely abandoned, in deference to the changed landscape and particularly to the increased number of New Orleanians who wanted to participate in designing their city’s future. Many dozens of public meetings were held, including visits to many neighborhood and community groups, in order to bring residents up to speed on the CPP concept. A close partnership was formed with the Neighborhoods Partnership Network (NPN), and the working relationship with the CPC was also redeveloped.
This first post-Katrina stage culminated in July 2008 with the Citizen Participation Summit, held over the course of a weekend at the Pan-American building downtown. Approximately 150 citizens, representing the full demographic and geographic diversity of New Orleans, participated in the Summit. During the weekend, residents defined the nine major elements they wanted to address in the New Orleans CPP, and formed Action Teams to work on each of these elements. After the Summit, the Action Teams began their work, with the first Team meeting just three days after the Summit concluded. In addition, monthly meetings with representatives from the Action Teams kept all the groups informed about each other’s work. Some 200 residents participated in the work of designing the NOLA-CPP, which makes it unique among all such structures in the United States.
Also during the fall of 2008, Councilmember Jackie Clarkson took the lead in preparing an amendment to the New Orleans City Charter that would give the city’s Master Plan the force of law. Working with other partners, CBNO was able to include the call for community participation in the amendment, putting the CPP mandate into the City Charter.
Developing the NOLA-CPP Model
The first draft of the new NOLA-CPP model was released at a breakfast at the Ashe Cultural Center on February 28, 2009. Attended by dozens of residents, CPC staff and several city officials, this session introduced the model to the community, including the groundbreaking Communities of Interest component of the NOLA-CPP. Reaction to the model was extremely positive. This was followed by another round of community and neighborhood meetings to present the draft model and receive input on it, leading to the release of a revised draft model in May 2009. During the post-Katrina process of working on the CPP, CBNO conducted well over 100 public meetings and reached out to more than 1,800 New Orleanians. In addition, input on the model was received from close to 700 additional residents via in-person and on-line surveys.
Next, CBNO staff and NOLA-CPP volunteers began working with the Planning Commission and the Goody Clancy consultant team on the New Orleans Master Plan, particularly Chapter 15, the chapter on Community Participation. This work consumed the rest of 2009 and continued into early 2010. Dialogue with the CPC staff about the NOLA-CPP did continue during this period, leading to several important advances in the framework for the CPP and in the model itself.
After the Master Plan draft was completed, the CBNO staff and volunteers returned to the NOLA-CPP. Neighborhood and community meetings continued, as did the Action Teams (now consolidated into a single group that continued to refine the CPP model). In summer 2010, a near-final draft was presented to the CPC staff, which provided a thorough and thoughtful review of the model. The NOLA-CPP team reviewed the CPC suggestions, and another set of revisions was made.
Finally, in September 2010, the NOLA-CPP model was formally submitted to the City Planning Commission, the culmination of seven years of multi-faceted collaboration, innovative thinking, thousands of hours of work on the part of New Orleans citizens, and extensive input from residents and stakeholders throughout the city.
The Process Interrupted
One month after the NOLA-CPP model was submitted to CPC, the City Council passed a resolution directing the Planning Commission to take the model and any other relevant materials they had, conduct one final, robust round of community hearings, and return to the Council in June 2011 with a final version for adoption. The Council provided funding for this work. All involved with preparation of the CPP model supported this approach, as a way to take one last, good look at it.
In January 2011 City Planning announced the process for completing the work, and began implementing it. Unfortunately, in March Mayor Mitch Landrieu completely halted the process and took the funds.
Despite this major setback, there has been some significant progress towards implementation of the NOLA CPP. The most important is the establishment of the City Planning Neighborhood Participation Plan (NPP). The NPP is a small but important piece of the NOLA-CPP model, what the model calls its Early Notification System. The NPP requires virtually all applicants seeking an action of the Planning Commission to have a meeting with residents within a defined radius of the property in question, and the neighborhood association for that area, before the formal application process can begin. This is the first-ever mandate for community input in the 300-year history of New Orleans. Though limited by being a stand-alone element rather than part of the full CPP structure, the NPP has been reasonably successful in giving residents and neighborhoods an opportunity to comment on projects that will impact them.
Also, CBNO has conducted several successful pilot projects to demonstrate the value of the CPP. These include working with the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association to provide an example of how the District Council concept works, especially when there is professional staff support such an entity. CBNO also partnered in two Community of Interest pilot projects. The Housing Community of Interest, with the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, produced among other things the very popular and useful Blight Resource Guide. Now in its third printing, the Guide provides information about resources available to neighborhoods, residents and even blighted property owners about how to address this serious New Orleans problem.
The second such pilot was the Latino Community of Interest, in partnership with Puentes New Orleans initially and then also with the ReFresh Coalition and the New Orleans Health Department. Community surveys of the growing New Orleans Latino community identified some very specific health issues among these residents, many of which could be addressed in no small part through lifestyle changes. Among the products of this project were Spanish-language cooking and nutrition classes, a Spanish-language nutrition and recipe book, Spanish-language exercise classes, and more.
Finally, and somewhat ironically, the Neighborhood Engagement Office establish by Mayor Landrieu in no small part to coopt the NOLA-CPP actually is well-placed to become an important part of the full CPP. NEO has done good work in community informing and outreach, and can easily be expanded to fill the role of being an information and accountability link between city government and the community-based NOLA CPP structure.
CBNO worked very strategically to make sure that candidates for mayor and City Council in the fall 2017 elections stated their positions on implementation of the CPP. The result was that mayor-elect Cantrell and all the incoming Council members have in fact stated that they will work to implement it. CBNO has begun working with the Neighborhood Engagement Office and City Planning Commission on the neighborhood boundary mapping work. CBNO is participating on the mayoral transition team to make sure it is informed about, and inclusive of, the CPP. Last but far from least, a large, diverse CPP Coalition is being assembled to make sure that all segments of the community are aware of the work to implement the CPP and can be part of that process. While there are several stages to this work, and nothing is going to happen overnight, the current projection is that a NOLA CPP model will be adopted in 2019 and substantially implemented by the end of 2020.