COLUMBIA — Columbia could benefit from requiring neighborhoods to set up associations instead of relying on citizens to organize in response to community issues, such as large development proposals, neighborhood activist Paul Leistner told residents Tuesday during the city's Neighborhood Leadership Program.
Leistner, the neighborhood program coordinator for the City of Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement in Portland, Ore., outlined how his city's neighborhoods have benefited from a more streamlined process of establishing associations.
Currently, Columbia’s neighborhood system is “reactive as opposed to proactive,” Bill Cantin, the city’s neighborhood response coordinator, said. “We wait for neighborhoods to come to us.”
Cantin said the city needs to update its 32-year-old neighborhood association policy to make room for evolving neighborhood associations.
In Portland, a charter requires all neighborhoods to establish a formal association, Leistner said.
Cantin, along with Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade and other members of the community, were interested in looking at Portland’s neighborhood model because it provides a level playing field between the city and its residents.
Cantin said that the public is interested in building a neighborhood system in which neighborhoods are better connected both to each other and to city government. Not only do associations need to be in place, but they need to continually encourage residents to get involved, Leistner said.
“One of the challenges across the country is how to get new energy and new people engaged, so it’s not the same people having to do it all and getting burned out,” he said.
According to Leistner, the key to successfully engaging people is helping them understand the issues present in their neighborhoods and how those issues affect them.
“You do have to reach out, you have to give them the skills and training and the support,” Leistner said.
Leistner suggested that association members go door-to-door to help better understand the issues that need to be addressed in their neighborhoods.
Columbia resident David Harris said, so far, no one in his West Pointe neighborhood has been interested in establishing a neighborhood association but Leistner helped him understand what moves to make when trying to get off the ground.
“He told me that when I am working with city officials, I need to show that the neighborhood is supportive of my position, whether it be with a signed petition, just to show that I have support from other residents,” Harris said.