Best Practices

Mayor Harold G. Moss

Neighborhood Council

The City of Tacoma sponsored a "Community Summit" to bring together residents from throughout Tacoma to identify and discuss their major common areas of concern. Those citizens identified neighborhood enhancement in general as a major area of concern. More specifically, citizens indicated they wanted a more organized and effective way for neighborhoods to work with city government to improve their parts of the city.

After the summit, city staff members and citizens worked together to craft an ordinance to establish such a program. Research included interviews with key citizens and benchmarking visits and conversations with neighborhood program participants in other cities. Drawing together the best practices from other cities and the desires of Tacoma citizens, the City Council approved an ordinance that divided Tacoma into eight Neighborhood Council Districts. Those districts coincide with Tacoma's historic communities where practicable, and followed permanent and easily recognized features.

In September 1993, the city organized "Neighborhood Councils Creation Month" which included a public information campaign that drew more than 900 citizens to a series of public forums. At the forums, citizens learned about the new program, asked questions and formed organizing committees for the eight Neighborhood Councils. With assistance from the city, each committee later adopted its own bylaws and elected officers.

To further strengthen the city's commitment to the citizens, the City Manager assigned department directors to serve as liaisons to each Neighborhood Council. Each liaison, as a powerful top manager, helps foster open dialogue between city government and the neighborhoods and works with his or her Neighborhood Council to develop innovative solutions to that area's specific problems.

City government cannot solve problems alone. The Neighborhood Councils provide a built-in, ready-made vehicle for citizen participation in decisions big and small. The Councils tackle issues and get consensus on projects that affect their areas. They also provide an easy mechanism for improving communication among citizens, other neighborhoods and the city.

The program is very cost effective. The annual administrative budget for the Neighborhood Council Program is $94,130, which includes $5,000 a year to each of the Neighborhood Councils to pay for maintenance and operations costs such as printing, postage, office supplies and training. The program has one full-time coordinator and is supported by existing city staff from other areas as needed. The eight Neighborhood Councils are run by citizen volunteers. The Neighborhood Councils are state-registered, non-profit groups -- independent from city government -- and are encouraged to write grants and raise their own funds. In addition, the city provides each Neighborhood Council with approximately $20,000 per year to administer an Innovative Grant Program. Applications for small-scale neighborhood improvement projects are submitted by neighborhood groups and organizations within the Council area. Each Neighborhood Council selects its grant winners and requires a 10 percent match by the recipient.

Contact: Rick Rosenbladt, (206) 591-5171


Neighborhood Business District Revitalization

Tacoma had a problem: six aging business districts with declining appearances and economies. The situation was not unlike that in any larger metropolitan area with distinctly different neighborhoods suffering from urban blight and decay. To survive, the districts needed creative strategies to stimulate, enhance and encourage economic development and growth.

In 1991, the City of Tacoma formed the Neighborhood Business District Revitalization Program to link city resources and programs to the actual needs of each business district. Prior to the inception of the program, smaller, outlying neighborhood business districts primarily worked independently, often with no structured approach or plan. The new program stepped in to emphasize a cooperative approach, leveraging each district's assets and maximizing the city's resources to address priorities and needs. It developed assistance programs to help the districts with design, organization, promotion, marketing and business assistance. Because of the program, the districts have direct access to city government's resources and staff. As an organized group, they are better able to advocate for their interests by influencing government policies and decisions that might affect their businesses.

Since its inception, the program has grown from one full-time staff member to include two additional three-quarter-time positions. The team has organized additional business districts and raised money from state and federal sources for comprehensive planning and implementation of streetscape design and improvements. Staff members successfully leveraged small amounts of seed money to secure additional funding, including several grants for complementary projects.

A key activity of the program is to help each district find its own identity or niche. Prior to the program, small businesses did not think of themselves as part of a larger business community. This attitude of independence, although helpful to a certain degree, prevented collaborative activities that would have maximized benefits for everyone involved. This attitude discouraged comprehensive planning, lobbying and cooperative promotions and marketing. Now the business owners participate in on-going business association groups and meetings, strongly identify with their districts and willingly develop and participate in joint promotional efforts.

Tacoma's program is unique because it features a cross-district association made up of representatives of each business district. This umbrella organization provides valuable input on policies, program direction, guidelines and resource allocation. This broad coalition reduces conflict and enhances the economies of each district by managing priorities, providing an equitable process for distributing limited resources and encouraging non-competitive activities through joint projects.

As a result, if you drive around the business districts today you will see more beautifully designed streetscapes, individual identities, business-sponsored events and more businesses operating.

Contact: Juli Wilkerson, (206) 591-5200

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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