Not ready for pasture (NRP)

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Since its inception, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) has been the backbone of citizen participation in Minneapolis; it created or bolstered neighborhood organizations, charging citizens with the responsibility to decide when, where and how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on housing and civic improvements, programming and staff. With this grand experiment, the city put its money where its mouth is, creating the bedrock of community engagement in Minneapolis.

Opinion: Not ready for pasture

As NRP has moved into its second 10-year phase and nearer to its sunset, that foundation has weakened. While city officials should be applauded for their commitment to fund 70 percent of NRP’s phase two allocations, the amounts pale in comparison to phase one, and there is no guarantee the program will move into a third phase.

While neighborhood groups have done amazing work through NRP, the program vaulted some to unprecedented heights that have proven challenging, if not impossible, to sustain. More and more, organizations are scrambling to stay solvent for the short term while trying not to overextend themselves in terms of staffing and programming.

Bridge-area neighborhood groups exemplify how difficult this balance is. A recent $120,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation will keep the Southeast Como Neighborhood Association (SECIA) afloat into 2009. Meanwhile, the Seward Neighborhood Group’s (SNG), in many ways a success story, has run itself into the red financially for the second time in the past four years.

The difference between these two groups is not great. Both have been, and could continue to be, cornerstones of citizen participation, and, like many other groups, both face the real possibility of disappearing without adequate funding and proper management.

NRP is and should continue to be a central part of the city’s community engagement process, but we must be sure to learn from its successes and failures. Neighborhood groups should be rewarded for their work with a chance to continue it.

The city should continue to support — and even broaden, beyond geographic lines — the base of localized citizen participation by enabling that base to continue to be a real force, through funding and training, but also a certain level of autonomy.

On the other hand, neighborhood organizations should continue to seek other sources of funding — private grants, income-generating programs, individual donations and capital campaigns — and not rely on the pillar of NRP to prop them up. It’s a delicate balance, but it rests on a foundation that is far too strong, after two decades, to let erode on either side.