While many local governments practice city engagement, community-building continues to be a struggle. No matter how creative the citizen engagement techniques are, without creating strong community relationships, residents will continue to be disengaged.
The City of Brooklyn Park is the sixth largest city in Minnesota with a highly diverse population. This is in sharp contrast to the community that was founded by potato farmers of northern European heritage. Today, nearly 49 percent of its residents are non‐white and roughly 21 percent of those are foreign‐born, including the largest Liberian population outside of Liberia. Working with so many different cultures and communities is difficult in the best of times. However, this significant demographic change in the community over the last two decades resulted in Brooklyn Park being a community of communities. People of different backgrounds were living near one another but not with each other. It was another indicator, a symptom, of a much larger problem – a lack of connectedness.
As a result, in December 2009, with the support of its City Council, the City of Brooklyn Park embarked upon a “Community Engagement Initiative” (CEI), where a community‐wide strategic planning process was designed to engage and instill a shared willingness amongst residents to intervene in achieving social control, developing shared expectations of action, and establishing a working trust amongst its diverse community. Utilizing a professional facilitated process and investing in several months of time, a core planning team comprised of city leaders, community residents and city staff came up with strategic goals and a new mission statement for the community:
“Brooklyn Park, a thriving community inspiring pride where opportunities exist for all” and Core Values as follows:
- Believe that everyone has equal intrinsic value.
- Believe that diversity enriches community.
- Believe that trust is the foundation for building a healthy community.
- Believe that community thrives when each individual take responsibility to contribute.
- Believe that when a community supports all its members, it thrives.
The ground work for the CEI was laid through the Police, Recreation, Administration, and Community Development departments. Other City Programs such as its Neighborhood Action Program (NAP), Joint Community Police Partnership (JCPP), Multicultural Advisory Commission (MAC), Youth Opportunities Coalitions (YOC), and Business Forward Initiative (BFI) showed the importance of building and maintaining relationships with all residents including immigrants, minorities, and business communities and how relationships are the foundation of its programs and outreach. The CEI sought to do this on a community‐wide scale. The CEI focuses on leveraging key areas of youth, resources, and diversity. Specifically, Brooklyn Parks engages and leverages all the resources of its diverse community to ensure that it achieves its mission and strategic objectives; to engage a diverse community to enhance acceptance and understanding of one another, collaborating to achieve the mission; and ensure the success of all its youth by engaging and optimizing all community assets.
A series of Community Cafés were held at City Hall, area churches, businesses, and schools through an intensive mass marketing campaign. Over 400 individuals attended Community Cafés to give input on what would enhance their quality of life, their opportunities, what characteristic contribute to their quality of life, what detract, and what did they not want to see change as they planned for Brooklyn Park’s future. These cafés were intensive discussions designed to engage every participant. Residents provided incredible feedback on what they valued in the community, what they viewed as barriers, and what untapped potential they felt existed. Participants left energized and encouraged about the possibilities for their community.
Brooklyn Park recognized that due to the dynamically changing demographics of its community, it needed to adjust the way it did business. The traditional communication methods, application processes, and orientations need to be adjusted to fit the needs of a diverse community. These earlier programs acted as Brooklyn Park’s Petri dishes in how it does community outreach and engagement. This venture is a shared responsibility between elected officials, city staff, and community members in developing and implementing a plan for shared community future and vision. This is a unique and massive venture for a city to undertake but potentially could transform a city from a group of residents to a true community.
To learn more about Brooklyn Park, please visit http://www.brooklynpark.org/.