What the Neighbors Want: The Neighborhood Revitalization Program's First Decade

By Judith A. Martin and Paula Pentel, Journal of the American Planning Association

Vol. 68, No. 4, Autumn 2002

Page 2

The NRP Process

The NRP's upending of usual City practices and processes was this: Each neighborhood, even the wealthiest, was invited to decide how to allocate NRP resources in their neighborhood, once they had organized, met, and agreed on priorities. In great contrast to most city improvement programs, typically targeted only at the neediest areas and tied to specific programmatic agendas, the NRP was open to residents at every socioeconomic level. The study that proposed the NRP argued, "The ultimate measure of a revitalization program is its human impact, after all: revitalizing the city through its neighborhoods. Of all Minneapolis traditions and values, this is the most important and timeless" (Implementation Advisory Committee, 1989, p.2).

The administrative workings of the NRP have been laid out elsewhere (Berger et al., 2000a, 2000b; Fainstein, Glickman, et al., 1992,1993; Fainstein, Hirst et al., 1995; Goetz & Sidney, 1994). In brief, a central NRP administrative of fice, as well as a policy board (City of ficials plus elected neighborhood representatives) and an implementation board (agency and City staff), emerged as the responsible citywide parties overseeing the NRP. One reviewer of NRYs many oversight constituencies remarked that "we've got everyone represented except the Pope and the Mosquito Control District" (Parsons, 1990, p. A1). At the neighborhood level, each was to have an elected NRP group, and subgroups designed to address specific issues such as housing or traffic often emerged as well.

Historically, homeowners in Minneapolis, as elsewhere, have been the most vocal participants in local debates. In many ways, the NRP enabled this pattern to continue, despite admonitions to involve renters and newcomers. Homeowners and business owners became the staunchest NRP participants, dominating the NRP boards and committees. In neighborhoods with high proportions of multifamily housing, tenant participation was strongly solicited, but such representation was not often sustained (Berger et al., 2000a, 2000b; Goetz & Sidney, 1994).

As elsewhere, Minneapolis neighborhoods' identities dated to the early 20th century, when public school boundaries were created. Although bussing diffused some of these strong attachments by the 1980s, many well organized neighborhoods existed in the city as the NRP began. Consequently, a lottery chose the first group to begin the NRP process.2 In ensuing years, neighborhoods had to demonstrate a capacity to organize and plan in order to begin NRP participation. Within the first year, the City Planning Commission recommended a new wrinkle: the "First Step" process. This process oriented neighborhood residents to overall city policies and goals, and granted $ 100,000 prior to plan approval.3 This funding could be used to jump-start an important project or to initiate a visible signal of improvement.

The NRP has successfully accomplished its goal to involve citizens. Head counts of residents attending individual meetings showed an increase from an average of 16 participants in 1994 to an average of 25 in 1998 (Berger et al., 2000b). With literally thousands of citizens involved at countless public meetings, this experiment in self-determination has clearly roused interest and activity on the part of city residents. Knowledge of the NRP was demonstrated in a 1997 survey of Minneapolis residents: Results indicated that two thirds (66%) knew of the NRP program (Berger et al., 2000a, Appendix B).

The NRP administration set forth four required goals:
  1. Build neighborhood capacity: Bring all constituencies together to make decisions.
  2. Redesign public services: Each neighborhood decides what public services it needs and how to get them.
  3. Increase intergovernmental collaborations: Get five local operating units of government (city, county, park board, school board, library board) to work together in the neighborhood.
  4. Create a sense of community: Get neighborhoods to buy into the process.
The NRP administration also established a 10-step planning process:
  1. Neighborhood applies to NRP.
  2. Neighborhood is selected to begin plan development.
  3. Neighborhood drafts a participation agreement.
  4. NRP policy board approves the participation agreement.
  5. Neighborhood conducts organizing activities.
  6. Neighborhood develops its action plan.
  7. NRP implementation committee refines action plan to be adopted by participating jurisdictions.
  8. Neighborhood submits action plan for policy board approval.
  9. Participating jurisdictions approve elements of the action plan.
  10. Implementation of action plan begins.
The goals and processes outlined above are an extreme shorthand for a very complex, interwoven, and closely monitored set of activities. The NRP's inherent challenges became visible over time. The "build capacity" goal (#1) had to be met before step #1, submitting the application, could occur. Developing the action plan (step #6) had to be concurrent with goal #2, "redesign public services." Plan implementation (step #9) had to be happening in some neighborhoods before goal #3, "increase intergovemmental collaborations," could begin to be assessed. It also became clear that the goal "create a sense of community" (#4) was easier to accomplish than achieving the intergovernmental collaborations that goal #3 anticipated. Neighborhoods that completed the process, and now have tangible evidence of their abilities to influence decision making, have come to believe in the importance of intergovernmental collaboration to meet their goals. However, the much hoped for collaborations remain a sticking point, primarily over issues of funding and budgeting cycles. These are, of course, lessons learned from long observation of the process, not what was expected at the start. Especially in its early years, the NRP was very much a work in progress, and fine tuning had to occur along the way.

Neighborhoods could not even initiate the NRP process absent significant forethought and planning, including surveys, door knocking, and focus groups. In addition, grassroots neighborhood organizing was not seamless in all neighborhoods. Resident surveys regarding priorities had to be completed and analyzed long before planning could even begin. Some neighborhoods primarily those with existing habits of organization, sailed through this formulation quickly and with relative ease. Others struggled for a long time with efforts to build capacity. As noted above, the relative duration of planning varied from 2.5 to 3.5 years.

There were clear expectations that participating in the NRP would improve neighborhood capacity and cohesion, and that in the long term it would help to stabilize declining areas of the city. Building neighborhood capacity and participatory democracy requires face-to face encounters (Berry et al., 1993), and as is clear from our discussion, neighborhood residents had to work together to develop, and later to implement, their plans.

At the outset, the NRP administrative staff designated each neighborhood as one of three types:
  1. Protection: areas that are already stable and successful. Here the central office's announced goal was to maintain the existing housing stock and improve services. These were primarily middle- to high-income residential neighborhoods contiguous with Minneapolis' celebrated parks system and located at the outer edges of the city.
  2. Revitalization: areas with an aging but still viable housing stock, often quite close to declining industrial areas. Here the goal was to invest strategically to enhance desirability of the housing and to encourage stability.
  3. Redirection: areas with declining incomes and major social service needs, or whose housing stock could not compete with housing elsewhere in the city or metro area. The goal here was to work toward major landscape transformation and to attract much needed new investment.
Thus, the NRP focused on preserving stable and successful upper- and middle-class urban neighborhoods, revitalizing more modest areas with commerce and industry, and redirecting the fortunes of poor inner-city neighborhoods.

Table 1 and Figure 1 show that the neighborhoods receiving the highest NRP allocations were those closest to the city center, and not surprisingly, also those that were historically the poorest (Martin & Lanegran, 1983). Table 1 presents the neighborhood and per-household allocations. These allocations result from an iterative process, whereby neighborhoods presented plans to the NRP Board, which then set dollar amounts. Some neighborhoods did not receive all the funds they requested. Policymakers were responsible for sorting out competing priorities. The NRP administration categorized requests according to the nine initiative types listed in Table 2. Allocation figures ranged from $240,780 for Nicollet Island/East Bank (45), a small protection neighborhood, to $ 18 million for Phillips (49), one of the most populous due to its large average household size.

Despite the novely of devolution of power and resources, the NRP was very much in the tradition of post World War II planning, with its central focus on housing. The housing emphasis established a general action framework for the city's neighborhoods. At the outset, neighborhoods were directed to spend 52% of their allocation on housing. Beyond that order, the program's first director told participants to "dream your dreams,'- uplifting advice that did not always square with the citywide housing improvement goal. Indeed, after 10 years of neighborhood planning, it has turned out that initiatives not involving housing have proven the most innovative and imaginative, as well as an often surprising source of local values and information. that funds would be evenly divided among all neighborhoods; funding would be allocated based on projects proposed.


| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

© Copyright 2002 Journal of the American Planning Association. All rights reserved.

Return to In the News Index


Site Map