In brief, neighborhood associations are voluntary organizations of stakeholders in a neighborhood. They agree to work together for the betterment of their area of town, within defined boundaries. Neighborhood associations offer a place to meet neighbors, exchange information, create projects and priorities, propose solutions, and have fun.
They are open to everyone in the neighborhood — renters, homeowners and businesses, as well as people from churches, schools, and other non-profits. A neighborhood association is formed based on the needs and desires of its stakeholders. By working together, people can get more things done than individuals working alone. (Note neighborhood associations are not HOAs, homeowners’ associations. They have no authority to assess charges or make enforceable rules.)
What do they do?
Neighborhood associations often focus first on solving problems, maybe local crime issues or that obsolete traffic signal endangering pedestrians. They also work for neighborhood improvements, perhaps reviewing the city’s capital facilities plan to make sure local projects are included, or participating in designing a new city project in their neighborhood.
These associations often focus on City Hall because the city provides most of the public services effecting neighborhoods. The City of Edmonds is moving ahead on a number of projects, large and small, that will affect our neighborhoods.
By the end of next year, the city must adopt a new Comprehensive Plan, and it must allow for substantial growth over the following 20 years. How will that growth effect our neighborhoods? How much influence will each neighborhood have in shaping its own future? A good organization can become a collective voice of its neighborhood; it can make things happen.
Neighborhood associations also organize community events such as block parties and area cleanups. These can be effective ways for neighbors to know each other better and welcome newcomers to the neighborhood. They help build a stronger sense of community. Over time, a good association will earn credibility and political clout and become an effective force for a better neighborhood.
Neighborhood associations typically have a steering committee or a board of directors. They usually hold monthly meetings open to the public. Some money does need to be raised, usually for creating a website and printing flyers. As an all-volunteer operation, nobody gets paid.
Neighborhood associations in nearby cities
I was struck by how many neighboring cities already have neighborhood associations in place. Everett has 19 neighborhoods, each with its own association. The city offers small grants for associations to carry out improvement projects.
Bellevue has 16 neighborhood associations, each one with a liaison from city Neighborhood Outreach staff. Shoreline has 14 organized neighborhoods and a citywide Council of Neighborhoods where association representatives meet to discuss common issues.
While many cities support local associations and encourage their formation, the actual organizing work comes from the grassroots. The groups themselves operate independently. They decide what projects to do and policies to advocate; occasionally they may need to fight city hall.
There’s much material on the internet easily found by searching.
Where do we go from here?
Neighborhood associations work to enhance quality of life in their neighborhoods, support participation in city government and foster a greater sense of community. I believe Edmonds is ready for a system of neighborhood associations across this city. Or at least get the idea out there for conversation.
If there is enough interest, we could discuss the issue further in a public forum, perhaps inviting people from neighborhood associations in nearby cities. Or a few people may be ready to just seize the opportunity and create one in their neighborhood right now.
— By Roger Pence
Roger Pence lives in Edmonds.