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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Local governments and neighbourhood groups : an investigation of existing models Armstrong, Sharon J.


This thesis was undertaken to examine existing models of municipal government linked neighbourhood organisation structure and thereby to generate lessons for future practice. Four municipalities participated in this research. All were chosen because of their reputation for successfully promoting true democracy through citizen participation. Each neighbourhood organisation structure is explored in detail allowing the reader to learn of their complex infrastructure. In each of the four municipalities two groups of participants were involved; office of neighbourhoods directors and neighbourhood association members. The involvement of the two groups results in the presentation of structures from both a top down and bottom up perspective. Responses are compared so that similarities and differences in perception between the two groups of respondents are illustrated. Effective citizen participation offers an ongoing challenge for governments, particularly at the municipal level, and ways of improving citizen participation are constantly being explored. Citizen participation has evolved in this country from the gaining of franchisement to varying degrees of direct involvement in government affairs. Current methods of citizen participation in local government often remain reflective of the reluctance of government officials to let go of their 'power' and this can be seen when initiatives are restricted to 'informing' or 'consulting' with the public regarding government endeavours. Other attempts to empower communities have moved beyond informing and consulting. In British Columbia actual partnerships have been formed between local governments and community members for the purposes of making decisions about the development of programmes. Although successful on some level, these efforts are at best temporary, involving participants on a short term basis only. More permanent, progressive models of citizen participation do exist in both Canada and the United States and these are models through which true participatory democracy is not only promoted but also maintained. The models referred to are those which involve citizens organised into neighbourhood associations which are linked with local government and which play an ongoing and expected role in local government decision making. Specific examples of these models are the four structures which are examined within this thesis. A vast amount of information developed from this research. The examples of neighbourhood organisation structure examined fall within the consultation (where citizen groups are consulted but government reserves the right to make decisions) and partnership (where citizen power is expressed in the form of negotiation and sharing decision making tasks with local government) levels. In light of modern and postmodern theories it was found that local governments exist within a very modern framework while citizens and neighbourhood associations exist within a more postmodern framework. This makes it difficult for government and citizens to work cooperatively and to share in decision making tasks. Because three of the four neighbourhood organisation structures examined exist as departments within their respective local governments, participants remarked that they must be very cautious not to become engulfed by the modernist principles with which they are so closely linked. Finally, a number of recommendations developed from this research that will hopefully be of use for those municipalities wishing to initiate neighbourhood organisation structures of their own. Neighbourhood association respondents stressed the necessary independence of neighbourhood associations from respective offices of neighbourhoods, the desire for a partnership level of citizen participation, the importance of a flat, non-hierarchical organisational neighbourhood organisation structure framework and the benefits of informal, impromptu communication between citizens, neighbourhood associations, office of neighbourhoods and city officials. Participants operating at the office of neighbourhoods level emphasised the necessity of liaising with many other community organisations and city hall departments stating that an abundance of connections results in greater knowledge and therefore greater power to influence local government decisions. This group of participants also stressed that ongoing encouragement of citizens to participate at the local government level must be an inherent aspect of the overall design of the neighbourhood organisation structure and that criteria for recognition of neighbourhood associations are effective if they are as minimal as possible. Finally, it was mentioned that when initiating a neighbourhood organisation structure it is important to start where the citizens are rather than where you would like them to be.

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