It Takes a Community - How City Leaders Demonstrate the Power of Citizen-Government Collaboration

Posted by on May 29, 2019 at 2:43 PM

At Cities of Service, we believe cities can and should learn from one another. We work with a coalition of more than 260 cities to help city leaders meet pressing challenges by effectively engaging with citizens. And while we’ve learned a lot during a decade of helping cities address issues ranging from neighborhood revitalization to disaster preparedness, we started the Engaged Cities Award so we could find and elevate even more promising ways that city leaders are collaborating with residents to solve problems.

During the inaugural award, we learned about citizen-driven solutions in cities with populations ranging from 47,000 to 9 million on three continents, led by officials from across the political spectrum. We identified 10 finalists, including three winning cities. City leaders collaborated with residents to create safer streets, healthier communities, and better drivers. Others transformed abandoned buildings and public spaces in order to revitalize neighborhoods and reduce conflict. Many did these things with small budgets or no budget at all, demonstrating that any city can achieve similar results when they work together with citizens.

In order to help other city leaders learn from, adapt, and improve upon their solutions, we created ten case studies:  

  • In Bologna, Italy, a small group of citizens wanted to repaint a bench but bureaucracy got in the way. City leaders adopted a new regulation allowing residents to partner with city government and improve their neighborhoods. This spurred the city to establish district laboratories to engage residents, transforming the way the government works with citizens.
  • To make its streets safer, Boston gamified safe driving with an app that encouraged residents to improve their driving habits.
  • Fort Collins incorporated input from citizens into almost every stage of its budgeting process. City staff collected input from diverse communities to create a budget that better reflected the priorities of residents.
  • Citizens in Hamm, Germany -- including children, immigrants, and religious groups -- contributed their ideas to help transform an abandoned coal mine into a park that unified the community.
  • Helsinki went through a rigorous human centered design process to provide better support for immigrants to help them integrate into society. Immigrants and city staff prototyped and tested proposed initiatives, which led to new services like peer tutoring and jobs programs for youth.
  • In Huntington, West Virginia, the city provided support for citizen-led initiatives, such as a farmers market run by neighbors and new biking and hiking trails, which helped reduce the obesity rate in the city.
  • Residents provided their input to inform the development of Mexico City’s new constitution. Citizens proposed ideas for inclusion through an online crowdsourcing process, many of which are now part of the ratified constitution.
  • San Jose asked residents to submit their best ideas to solve public problems, including graffiti -- a problem consistently ranked as a concern on community surveys. The city partnered with residents to develop a promising solution into a working prototype that will likely increase the city’s ability to remove more graffiti at a lower cost.
  • In Santiago de Cali, Colombia, city leaders created local councils, called mesas de cultura ciudadana, to bring neighbors together. The councils launched a variety of community initiatives to build trust between neighbors, such as rehabilitation of public parks and arts events, and helped reduce violence in the city.
  • In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the city recruited citizen volunteers to analyze data, which led to better understanding of problems like blight and street safety. Their work is helping city leaders make policy decisions and prioritize spending accordingly.

We hope that city leaders around the world will learn from and reproduce these initiatives in their own communities. Solutions like these can transform how city governments collaborate with their citizens, leading to stronger cities that are better able to meet today’s challenges.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are strictly those of the author and do not represent the views of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund, the Bridge Alliance, or the Bridge Alliance’s member organizations. Additionally, the Bridge Alliance Education Fund makes no representations as to the accuracy of this post’s contents.