Empowering residents to make change

By Lisa Smith
For The Journal
Recently, NeighborWorks Pocatello facilitated the process of selecting new names for sections of the “Old Town” neighborhood. Dividing the neighborhood into smaller sections has been a goal of the Old Town Neighborhood Association for a number of years. The Neighborhoods of Historic Old Town still encompass the same geographic boundaries as before but now each neighborhood is smaller, making it easier for residents to feel connected to one-another through the common space that they share. Neighborhood associations provide an organizational structure that helps connect residents and empower them to act together on behalf of their neighborhood and the community.
A neighborhood association is a group of residents and business owners who share a specific space in our community. These neighbors come together for a number of different activities that are social, educational, civic, and political in nature—activities that are always decided upon, and enacted by, the neighbors who participate in the association. This is an important point to make: the democratic and grassroots nature of the organization are intended to ensure that all neighborhood association members are given equal opportunity to participate and that leadership positions are many, and open to all.
Neighborhood associations are not new. Neighborhood associations are used as a vehicle to engage residents in many cities around the country, including Pocatello. Cities support neighborhood associations because they are valued as a way to organize residents and empower them to take collective action. Cities also support neighborhood associations because they provide a continuous source of public input into the public policy process. While there are many benefits for local government when effective neighborhood associations are present, there are benefits for the residents of the association as well.
There are many tangible benefits to developing connections with those who inhabit your neighborhood. These benefits include the ability to share knowledge with others, the ability to ‘know a guy’ when you need something done that requires knowledge and skills that you don’t possess, and the opportunity to meet people who may help you advance in your personal or professional life. Neighborhoods where residents know one another and communicate generally have lower crime rates, because residents tend to look out for one another. If neighbors notice illegal or suspicious behavior they are less likely to look the other way, and instead feel a sense of responsibility to act on behalf of the good of the neighborhood. In neighborhoods where crime is an issue residents can organize watch groups and create other solutions to solve their shared problem.
Residents who are organized under a neighborhood association are in a better position make changes that they identify as desirable. Organizing as a group to work for change, as opposed to working individually, generally results in more successful efforts. Needed changes will be identified by the residents who participate in the association, these residents will also create and implement the plans for change. Changes can include cleaning up litter at a neighborhood park, or pooling resources to have a neighborhood get together to encourage relationship development. Change may be the implementation of a newsletter or some other form of communication that allows residents to share information with each other. Change may also result in better neighborhood amenities, which help raise property values and ensure that neighborhoods are competitive in the real estate market.
These are only a few of the benefits for residents, and neighborhoods, when there is an effective neighborhood association present. However, even with all of these benefits it can be difficult to find the time to participate in yet another group—luckily, neighborhood associations are different from other groups with regard to individual member participation. Neighborhood associations are flexible, meaning that individual participation can fluctuate over time to adjust to other demands for a member’s time and energy. The flexibility of the organization also helps ensure that the association does not suffer as individual member participation changes. Neighborhood associations have a low threshold for minimum member participation, meaning that almost everyone can find the time to participate in their neighborhood association.
NeighborWorks Pocatello provides support to 6 neighborhood associations which include Bonneville, Whittier, College, Alameda, Lewis and Clark, and the Neighborhoods of Historic Old Town. There are many examples of activities undertaken by each one of these associations, including the Neighborhood Marketing Campaign currently being undertaken by the Neighborhoods of Historic Old Town. There are also many examples of activities engaged in by neighborhood associations on behalf of their shared space.
In 1994, Bannock Regional Medical Center tore down a number of houses on 11th street to make room for a medical facility and parking lot. Residents of the neighborhood felt that their neighborhood was being encroached upon by an outside organization, and banded together to form the College Neighborhood Association (CNA). The CNA was unable to prevent the hospital from creating the medical facility but they were able to get the City to designate their neighborhood as a critical stabilization area, which would prevent further encroachments from non-residential entities. This critical stabilization area designation, and the organizational knowledge of how to work within the political system, allowed the CNA to successfully stop a row of houses on 6th street from being turned into a parking lot in 2000.
This is just one of many local examples of the power of residents when united under a neighborhood association. However, neighborhood associations need widespread participation by residents to be effective. If you would like information about how to join one of the above mentioned neighborhood associations, or would like to see a map of each one, visit www.nwpocatello.org and click on the “Our Neighborhoods” link. Information can also be obtained by calling me at 208-232-9468, or stopping by the NeighborWorks Pocatello office located at 206 N. Arthur.

Lisa Smith is the community engagement coordinator for NeighborWorks Pocatello. She is a longtime resident of the Pocatello-Chubbuck area and has a strong desire to help people become involved in the public policy) process. Lisa graduated from Idaho State University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2009 and recently earned a master’s degree in public administration from ISU.