“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” - Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
What does it mean for a city to be created by everybody? Here in downtown Los Angeles, where I and many of my colleagues live and work, it's a question that is omnipresent. After all, "everybody" is a dizzying array of constituencies -- real estate developers, residents from Skid Row to marbled lofts, creative industries, startups, philanthropists, commuters, and small business owners among them.
These days I look to Pershing Square as a microcosm of our city's potential. A public park occupying an entire block in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, Pershing Square has seen better days. "Concrete," "ugly," and "dirty" were the words poll respondents recently chose to describe Pershing Square. It is not a place where people love to congregate. Pershing Square might be dead, or at least struggling for air, but there is a concerted effort to give it new life. It's built on the premise of civic participation. If a diversity of voices chimes in to create a vision for the square, and there is a process for incorporating public feedback, the end result will yield greater utility and pleasure for all. I'm excited to see how it goes.
Civic participation depends on leaders trusting people. Civic innovation depends on leaders facilitating better solutions. Here are some cities that are using NationBuilder software to promote both:
Multiple cities, Canada
We Are Cities is a civic engagement campaign with more than two dozen participating organizations. They're organizing roundtables across Canada to develop an action plan for building thriving cities.
Boston Creates is the City of Boston’s cultural planning process. It brings together civic leaders, partner organizations, and 16 community engagement teams to build a shared vision for strengthening creative capital.
The City of Cambridge’s participatory budgeting process involves residents directly in the budgeting process to ensure that the city’s capital plan is aligned with residents' priorities.
Provo People’s Lobby is an experiment in participatory democracy. It asks citizens to submit suggestions for how to make Provo better. From there, participants are invited to create a policy that will be voted upon by the Provo City Council.
San Francisco, California
Shared Schoolyard Project is a partnership between the City of San Francisco, the San Francisco Unified School District, and neighborhood organizations. It opens schoolyards to the public in an effort to provide more accessible and safe spaces for children to play.
Los Angeles, California
Step Forward LA is a project of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. It is designed to connect more than 350,000 residents who are eligible for citizenship to local resources for navigating the naturalization process.
West Hollywood, California
WehoX is the City of West Hollywood’s civic innovation program. It promotes the adoption of technologies that will benefit residents, visitors, and businesses.