By Patience Paisley
New research suggests that the Old North End Neighborhood could be the best existing organization through which to establish a “Green Zone Sustainable Neighborhood.”
The PPJPC launched its search for the Greenest Place in Town in the August-September 2013 issue of Active for Justice. The idea is to create an eco-village where the residents willingly fund investment in sustainability infrastructure.
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Examples are improved walking, hiking and biking trails/systems, community gardens and enhanced access to renewable energy.
For starters, we looked for areas where voting patterns indicate political will. Election results on three different issues over a four-year period identified a seven-precinct area where the vast majority of residents voted for change – approval of Measure 2C (maintaining city services by increasing property taxes), Richard Skorman for mayor and passage of Amendment 64 (marijuana legalization).
This area in central Colorado Springs was coincidentally rich on environmental factors, having decent rain and well-water supplies, adequate soil, significant open spaces and relatively high walkability/biking scores.
We then identified three existing neighborhood organizations as potential mechanisms for organizing and creating the Green Zone: Middle Shooks Run Neighborhood Association, Old North End Neighborhood and Patty Jewett Neighborhood Association.
We then asked if any of these neighborhood organizations, based on their organizational structures, would be a legitimate mechanism to establish Green Zones.
Research indicates the Old North End association has the most likely mechanism to facilitate sustainability at the neighborhood level. The neighborhood is roughly a rectangle between Wood and Nevada avenues, from Uintah north to Madison.
This conclusion was achieved by measuring the capacity of the organization along four variables: authority, access, communication and current environmental sustainability practices. The sum of these variables results in a “potential mechanism” (PM) score.
The results supported the conclusion that neighborhood organizations are viable mechanisms of change.
“Authority” is defined as how a Neighborhood Organization (NO) fits into or is recognized by the local governance structure.
The authority category consists of 21 variables compiled from numerous urban studies including formal authority/legal status, bylaws, mission and presence of paid staff.
The eight “access” components reflect the composition of membership: is it voluntary or mandatory, include property owners, renters, businesses or other interested parties?
Included in access components is the presence of a city council member, local business owner or land-developer among the members.
The “communication” category consists of 16 variables, such as the existence of a website, contact mailing address, email address and phone number, frequency of meetings and social media.
The fourth variable category, sustainability, includes sustainable practices around energy (solar or wind), water, recycling, parks and open spaces, and biking and hiking trails/systems.
Each variable was given a value of 1 to calculate the PM scores in each of the four categories.
Potential mechanisms score for authority ranged from Middle Shooks Run’s low 5 to Old North End’s high of 17.
Access scores were closer in range, from 5 to 7. This suggested a consistent composition in membership type. Membership was voluntary in all organizations, comprising property owners, renters and representatives of businesses and organizations in the defined geographic area.
However, voluntary membership excluded parties that do not want to join a NO for whatever reason, yet participate in sustainability practices. The Middle Shooks Run group had members of other recognized boards or public officials, which may increase its legitimacy and accountability.
The communication variable PM scores ranged from 8 to 14. The Old North End had a high score of 14 with three social media accounts and Patty Jewett follows with two. Middle Shooks Run did not participate in social media.
Although all have websites and access to email, only Old North End and Patty Jewett had e-newsletters.
Finally, the sustainability PM score ranged from 5 to 11. Although this score reflected programs and components within the NO that supported environmental sustainability, it was not an adequate measure.
Verifying the existence of community or private gardens, active neighborhood watch programs, local wildlife habitats, solar panels, recycling habits and green businesses was either not available or beyond the scope of our research.
Identifying organizational structures that reflect authority, access, and communication is a complex process. A more extensive profile with more comprehensive information about each neighborhood organization and their membership would offer a more valuable contribution to the development of the neighborhood.
To avoid conflict with local government and an overlap of sustainability plans, it would benefit PPJPC and interested residents to initiate the movement at a grassroots level and develop relationships with governance organizations as the movement develops.
Establishing a green zone sustainable neighborhood based on the interest of specific residents along with utilizing a database consisting of comprehensive profiles may find a more effective NO as a mechanism.
If activists’ organizations and public officials utilize neighborhood organizations as mechanisms, then a fuller understanding of NO and an efficient process to navigate local governance needs to be developed.
Do you live in the Old North End Neighborhood? Could you see turning this neighborhood into the first Colorado Springs Green Zone? It all starts with a house meeting of friends and neighbors. Call the PPJPC (719) 632-6189 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get going.
Patience Paisley is working on her master’s degree in public administration at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.