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inCommon is the Participatory Governance Blog of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy. Here you will find information about the latest resources, studies, programs and discussions about Civic Engagement in California, throughout the nation and around the world. We hope that the case studies and technological innovations discussed here will spark new reflection and conversation regarding both what legitimate civic engagement looks like and why it is important for good governance, particularly at the local level.

New to Civic Engagement? Check out our foundational documents »

Reclaiming Cincinnati?

Aaron Renn at The Urbanophile asks why Cincinnati hasn’t made the most of its assets, and argues that the city’s development strategy has encouraged a “low-grade sprawl” instead of “leveraging its unique and compelling assets.”

Renn suggests part of the problem is complacency:

Cities like Columbus that started out with much less understood in their gut that they needed to go out and create some things. They were hungrier. Cincinnati needs to recover some of that hunger and fire in the belly that motivates other places that are keenly aware of what they lack and are fighting every day to improve.

Another is division:

Cincinnati has also been plagued with deep and counterproductive community divisions. This includes the East Side-West Side split, city vs. suburb, three states, tea partiers vs. liberals, racial divisions, etc.…

 A strategy that works with, not against, the unique qualities and competitive advantages of Cincinnati; a more aggressive, hungry civic attitude; and a way to bridge community divides are three of the things that will help Cincinnati to realize the sustainable growth and prosperity it should have in light of the fantastic place that it is and the incredible assets it has.

What do you think? Does your city make the most of its cultural, economic, and civic assets?

Read Renn’s thoughts here.

An A-typical Solution to Homelessness

According to novelist and journalist Jenny Shank, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina is saving money by bucking conventional wisdom:

Giving apartments to the chronically homeless sounds like a nutty idea, right? Turns out, it might not be so crazy after all.

When the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte, North Carolina proposed building apartments to gift to homeless individuals in the community, some greeted the idea with derision. Naysayers believed that doing so rewarded bad behavior. But the interfaith organization forged ahead with the plan, using government grants and private donations to build a $6 million housing complex consisting of 85 units.

And now, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte study examining the first year of results found that giving housing to the homeless — even to those who have substance addictions or are mentally ill or can’t meet the requirements to stay in regular shelters — saved the city money. A lot of money, in fact: $1.8 million dollars.

Read more about Charlotte’s innovative approach to alleviating homelessness at NationSwell here.

Utah and Wyoming have received press for piloting similar programs. Read Shank’s article on Utah here.

Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15. 

Coffee, Cartography, and Community

Social cartographers at MIT have graphically mapped out all the independent coffee shops in San Francisco: 

If every independent coffee shop in San Francisco had a gang color and territory, what would you get?

To start, one of the most effete turf wars in history, with skinny bearded guys trying to kneecap each other without spilling their macchiato. But also this splendid, rainbow-colored cartography of coffee shops and the neighborhoods they serve, created by the data-viz magicians inside MIT’s Social Computing Group.

Why would these MIT mapping whizzes do this? John Metcalfe quotes from their website: 

Independent coffee shops are positive markers of a living community. They function as social spaces, urban offices, and places to see the world go by. Communities are often formed by having spaces in which people can have casual interactions, and local and walkable coffee shops create those conditions, not only in the coffee shop themselves, but on the sidewalks around them. We use maps to know where these coffee shop communities exist and where, by placing new coffee shops, we can help form them.

Take a look at the San Francisco map, and others at The Atlantic Cities here.

Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15

Decatur, GA: a culture of civic engagement

The Boston Review recently interviewed Andrea Arnold, Assistant City Manager of Decatur, Georgia, about how their city has adopted a culture of civic engagement over the past 15 years and what difference that is making.  Regarding her initial experience with a parking conflict, she explains: 

The city could have done nothing, but instead they addressed the conflict head-on. City leaders—residents, elected officials, and business owners—came together and developed a plan for addressing the community conflict. The city used the principles developed by the national Study Circles Resource Center to hold a citywide citizen dialogue, calling it the Decatur Round Tables. The participants identified what was important to them about life in Decatur and used this feedback to develop action items and action teams. These items formed the foundation of the 2000 strategic plan process. Ultimately, the parking lot was built in a brick building that blends into the neighborhood. Just as important, the city had found a new and effective tool for dealing with controversial issues. As other issues arose, the City was able to use the study circle model to have meaningful dialogue and to reach consensus.

You can read more here.

An Argument for Localized Policies

Stuart M. Butler and David B. Mulhausen argue in National Affairs that exact replication of policies from one state or locality to another is rarely a wise approach. Rather, policymakers should apply broad goals and approaches of successful policies, attending to the nuances of the time, place, and circumstances in which they operate:

While the idea of replicating successful initiatives may seem like the epitome of empirical, social-science-driven public policy, replication itself actually has a fairly poor track record. In fact, the evidence suggests it does not work all that well.

This record does not mean, however, that policymakers should conclude that they cannot ever replicate success and should not try to learn from the achievements of others. Instead, they need to think about those successes, and about their own efforts to solve problems where they are, in experimental and incremental terms. They should see their work as a form of adaptive trial and error: Rather than simply try to mimic what worked elsewhere, they should strive to adapt successful strategies to their own situations. . .

The technocratic approach sees policy experiments as testing a concept that, once proven, can be broadly applied to solve a social problem. Adherents of this view are constantly searching for the recipe for the perfect program that will be as useful in Scarsdale as in San Antonio. But the world is too complicated for that. . .

The inadequacies of that approach point the way to an alternative: an evolutionary approach to policy experimentation that has lower expectations but therefore greater potential.

 You can read the full article here

What do you think? In your experience, is replication of successful policies or programs possible and laudable? Or is each situation and locality different enough that only broad principles and lessons can be applied one from one to the other?

Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15