The Future of NRP
Unless policymakers do something, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program will cease to exist after 2009.
This program has helped create the Minneapolis we know today, jump-starting a generation of community empowerment, decentralized decisionmaking and neighborhood involvement. It has strengthened and in some cases helped create neighborhood groups, now commonly accepted as the cornerstones of most Minneapolis communities. Many of the political leaders now in City Hall have come up through the ranks of NRP neighborhoods - myself included.
There is a bill that has been introduced at the Legislature which, if enacted, would take what I consider a small first step: requiring a study about the future of NRP.
Earlier this week, the City's IGR Committee voted to ask the Legislature not to take any action on this bill. They wanted a year to take a look at the issue and engage in a discussion with all the jurisdictions involved before turning to the legislature. This morning, I was unable to convince my colleagues to modify that position somewhat by starting to work on the difficult question of NRP within the City.
However, I'm happy with the results of this morning's meeting. The Council has had what I consider a watershed moment on NRP - we are now openly, publicly talking about the future of this immensely successful and important program. Should it continue in something like its current form? If not, what should be changed? Should the focus continue to be housing, or should it be more flexible to other concerns like crime and safety, environment, etc? And underlying all of these questions is the 800-pound gorilla: how do we pay for it, and is any amount of money we spend in NRP (or a similar program with a different name) better spent than on other priorities?
I believe that our neighborhood groups offer a wealth to our City that we would be foolish to let slip away. NRP has allowed them to build incredible capacity that we (both residents and policymakers) too often take for granted. They help the City find creative solutions to the confounding problems we face together, they help pilot novel ideas.
When we look across Minneapolis today, there are thousands of examples, in block club organizing, housing improvment programs, Community Benefits Agreements, community policing, restorative justice, improvemnts to schools, libraries and parks as well as environmental policies and projects, traffic calming, and much more.
I believe that the City will be healthiest in the longterm if we find a way to create a permanent system of community empowerment, funding neighborhoods to find their own solutions to common problems. We need to have strong measures of accountability as well, of course, to make sure that the money is not misspent and that neighborhood groups represent all constituencies within their neighborhoods (one of the most common and legitimate criticisms of current NRP neighborhood groups). We need to take a thoguhtful and critical look at what has and hasn't worked with NRP, how it can be improved and how it should be changed. NRP has proven to me that a system of decentralized investment, decision making and, yes, power can offer opportunities that keeping all the control in City Hall cannot.
I will be working on this for the rest of this term, and I realize that it might be an uphill fight, but there are few opportunities and challenges less important than this one.
This is what I moved at today's Council meeting. Although it was defeated 10-3, with CMs Schiff and Lilligren voting with me (after the last "resolved" clause was amended to send the subject matter to Ways & Means, not Committee of the Whole), virtually all Council Members agreed that it was important that we begin to have the conversation about the future of NRP at the Council level. I also committed to return with a second effort, that will likely be the creation of a City Council appointed work group to return early this summer with recommendations.
Here is my first effort that was defeated today, for your consideration. I expect better results at the next Council Meeting.
"Motion by Gordon
Whereas, the Minneapolis City Council enthusiastically supports and is proud of the achievements of the City’s neighborhood organizations and their contributions to improving our City;
Whereas, the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) helps these organizations develop and implement their Neighborhood Action Plans;
Whereas, the originally designated funding source for NRP is due to expire in 2009;
Be it Resolved, that the Minneapolis City Council recognizes the need for continued investment in Minneapolis neighborhoods,
Be it Further Resolved, that the City Council recognizes that NRP develops and supports the civic infrastructure for our neighborhoods and has been a primary vehicle for resident involvement since 1990,
Be it Further Resolved, that the City Council directs the City Coordinator and Finance Director staff to work with the NRP Director to identify and assist with the examination and assessment of possible future funding options.
Be it Further Resolved, that the City Council refers the subject matter of the examination and assessment of possible future funding options for NRP to the Committee of the Whole. "