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Let's Map Out Community Action Groups, So People Know How to Get Involved

Tim Devin

March 31, 2014

People often want more say in how their cities and towns are run, but aren't sure how to go about it. Listing all of the neighborhood, community, and interest groups helps people realize how they can get involved-- and shows how easy it is to influence local politics.
CoUrbanize mapped the groups in Cambridge MA. I think there should be more directories like this.

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  • E Nomel

    Who does co-urbanize mean when they say "community"? if you read their website carefully, they are a for-profit group that works for real estate developer clients. Their "community forum" is nothing but window-dressing-- giving people a false sense of communicating succesfully with developers, while at the same time taking them away from the _real_ public process run by the city (i.e. public hearings about zoning and other land use issues) where participation actually can make a difference. The map itself tells you nothing-- it's merely a list of neighborhood associations and doesn't include any other sort of grassroots or community/advocacy group who often represent people who have barriers to participation. I am surprised that Good would give this the thumbs up.

    • Tim Devin

      Hi E-
      Thanks for the feedback. I think there's a couple things going on here-- one is the organization that produced the map; and the other is the map itself. I was posting about the map, and not the org that produced it.

      I hear you about public hearings being important-- although my personal experience has been that they can be farces as well. My experience is that the real power lies in neighborhood groups, interest groups and other advocacy pressure groups--and that they way to influence local politics is to either join one or to start your own.

      And that's what I like about this map. It shows if you live in X neighborhood, you can join X group. It also shows the blank spots on the map-- which to me asks the question "Why aren't there groups in this area?"

      I live next door to Cambridge (which is the city that the map covers), and agree more interest groups could be added. But I think it's a great initiative, and think it should be expanded.

    • Alessandra Rizzotti

      E Nomel are you an urban designer or do you know of any successful initiatives working with cities, developers, and residents?

      • E Nomel

        It depends what your definition of "success" is--it's important to look carefully at who the outcomes-- who benefits (and how)? And who is displaced? There are plenty of community planning and community cartography initiatives all over the US that successfully engage people in decision-making around development, and sometimes even have positive outcomes for residents. All of these initiatives involve on-the-ground, face-to-face community outreach and organizing to get people involved, and to make sure that equitable development at least has a chance and that people who already have barriers to participation aren't excluded. On the development side, there are, for example, affordable housing developers (like Fifth Avenue Committee or the Nehemiah Housing Development Committee in NYC) who have succesfully created housing for lower-income communities, in discussion with those communities.

        Your question is a really good one--and a difficult one-- cities, developers, and residents often have very different interests and motivations where development is concerned. I would add community organizations to this equation-- they play a very important role in organizing and representing residents.

  • Jackie Ramirez

    Tim this is a brilliant concept. Are you behind this? I would definitely love to see this all around the nation. We at GOOD celebrate these type of civic engagement ideas. I'd love to hear more about it.

    • Tim Devin

      No, the original map is by a group called Co-urbanize. I just think it's a great idea, and want to do one for my city (Somerville MA)-- and think it would be great if more cities followed suit. I think more folks would get involved in local politics if they just realized that their voices will be listened to if they speak up.

      Good should spread the word about the idea!