Any good community partnership requires trust, luck, patience and–relevant here–communication. This post is part of a series on the anatomy of a successful community partnership in the North Park community of San Diego. The information may be useful for those looking to increase Civic Engagement in other communities. The partners included the San Diego Unified School District, the North Park Community Association, City Council District Three, the City of San Diego Parks & Recreation Department and the San Diego Police Department. There were many goals, depending on one’s perspective, but as the community representative my goal was to help ensure the arrival of a new second-chance school was a net benefit for the community and to develop a good relationship with the school district.
If we were to collectively deliver on the promise of the ALBA/North Park Community Partnership we needed a commitment to communicate with the community groups and neighbors interested in improving the area. The partnership took three years and the communication started days after the very first community meeting with this update. The truth about any collaboration, though, is that alot of the work happens in small meetings that everyone can’t possibly attend. This actually increases the importance of communication, both to keep momentum and to make sure people know the effort isn’t just dying on the vine. Having been involved in community partnership efforts on the University and government side in the past, it was helpful to be approaching this one as a neighbor who lived blocks from the Park.
After the first email to my neighbors in the community, there were several meetings and dozens of communications with San Diego Unified School District and City Council staff. But the next neighborhood communication didn’t happen until advanced planning for a community forum with this email. That community forum–a neighborhood Town Hall–was about developing a prioity list of improvements in the neighborhood and understanding the limits of the partnership. ASIDE: As that Town Hall link shows, I took the position that neighbors are both interested in and capable of understanding the rules, background documents and technical information that impacted our partnership. Not everyone will want (or read) the information, but frequently politicians, academic institutions and government officials just assume the specifics are over our heads or won’t really matter, so they miss a key opportunity.
Part of the communication strategy involved getting the key elected officials to publish their commitment to the community, so I asked School Board Trustee to write this message to the neighbors. Then, as we turned the corner into the fall, I sent this September update using Constant Contact to link back to the community website. And as soon as we finished understanding what people said at the Town Hall, I immediately followed up with the results and next steps. If people care enough to give their time, the leadership of any community partnership has to respond in kind with thorough, honest updates.
Unfortunately, a combination of underperforming bonds and the death of California Redevelopment delayed implementation of the results by several months. But the project came full circle with the groundbreaking for improvements on August 4, 2012. The results for each of the partners are:
- North Park Community – Physical improvements to a play area, softball field–including major irrigation upgrade–and adjacent public sidewalks for an area that needs it;
- San Diego Unified School District – Needed school improvements and clear evidence that it can and will work with community leaders for mutual benefit;
- City Council District Office – Public improvements for which there was no city funding in a depressed part of the District;
- Parks & Recreation Department – Long sought high-pressure irrigation system and significant increase in volunteers and others paying attention to the Park.
- San Diego Police Department – Enhanced community relationship and a safer park that is increasingly used by neighborhood families.
An important element of any partnership is recognizing that these efforts don’t just meet an initial goal and stop. Communities change and some level of ongoing maintenance of the relationship is useful to ensure that what was a success six months ago doesn’t slide back into a recurring challenge six months down the road. As the people change, the neighborhoods always remain, so staying connected and in communication with community members should be a long-term goal for any partners.