Birmingham Citizen Participation Plan
The Birmingham Citizen Participation Plan (CPP), originally the Birmingham Community Participation Program, is a structured network of neighborhood associations that was created in 1974 to improve communication between residents and city leaders and revised in 1980, 1995, 2006 and 2013.
Neighborhood associations serve as the primary conduit for communicating specific issues, problems and opportunities to the city government. The relationships outlined in the Community Participation Plan are followed with respect to the development of the city's Birmingham Comprehensive Plan and the use of the CPP is a requirement for the city to receive federal Community Development Block Grants. In addition, neighborhood associations are routinely consulted on matters related to zoning changes, liquor licenses, economic development, and city services. Neighborhoods are also granted discretionary funds from the city's budget to use for capital improvements, to fund neighborhood organizations, and for non-capital projects and events.
Birmingham is divided into a total of 23 communities, and again into a total of 99 individual neighborhoods with individual neighborhood associations. Communities don't necessarily follow Council District boundaries, and are based on historical and social distinctions that preserve the city's generations of racial segregation. The plan is intended to accommodate flexibility by having neighborhood boundaries and names reviewed every two years, but the process of altering boundaries requires agreement of all affected neighborhood associations. Except for the accommodation of newly-annexed areas, changes to the neighborhood map have been uncommon.
Each neighborhood elects its own officers (president, vice-president and secretary) who conduct monthly meetings and serve as members of "Community Advisory Committees" with regular access to the heads of city departments. The presidents of these committees, in turn, form the Citizens Advisory Board, which meets regularly with the mayor, council, and department heads. Neighborhood officers must be 18 or older and reside in the neighborhood. Officers cannot hold elected city, state or federal office, be employed by the city, or continue serving after failing to attend meetings regularly or following a felony conviction.
Besides communicating with City Hall, the neighborhood associations also distribute or allocate community development funding awarded by the city. Numerous individual programs have been created through this system, including housing redevelopment corporations and commercial development projects, as well as beautification projects and funding for community events. Some neighborhoods also disburse some of their funds to schools, libraries and other community institutions. Historically, neighborhood newsletters were compiled by individual neighborhood associations and printed and distributed by the City's Community Development Department, now called the Community Resource Services Division.
The division includes a staff of community resource representatives (CRRs) who are assigned to individual communities as liaisons.
Birmingham established a Community Development Department in 1972, consolidating several functions, and specifically designed to comply with requirements drawn up by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for its Community Development Block Grants.
During 1973 the Community Development Department and Mayor George Seibels worked with HUD to design a program which would be administered by Operation New Birmingham. Early implementation began in North Birmingham, but was suspended in the face of widespread protests. A workshop was held to draft a new plan, this time without ONB's involvement. The map dividing the city into neighborhoods was also redrawn, using door-to-door polling to ask residents how they perceived their neighborhood boundaries.
The revised plan, with 84 individual neighborhoods, was adopted by the Birmingham City Council on October 15, 1974 and the first neighborhood elections were held in November, accompanied by a city-wide awareness campaign to inform citizens of the program.
With neighborhood officers and committees in place, the first meeting of the Birmingham Citizens Advisory Board was held in February 1975. The group coordinated the distribution of the city's first $5 million Community Development Block Grant from HUD.
After ten months of formal evaluation of the plan, a recommendation was made to lengthen the terms of neighborhood officers from one to two years. That modification was enacted by the Council on October 12, 1976.
Longtime Mayor Richard Arrington judged that Birmingham's CPP was second only to the Voting Rights Act in its effect of empowering Black residents of the city to impact public policy. Well-organized majority Black neighborhoods were able to outpoll white residents on critical bond referenda, securing matching funds for major federal grants for capital projects.
In 2011 the annual controversy over how many delegates would be sent to the Neighborhoods USA conference reached a pique when it was revealed that there were plans to charter an airplane to carry 99 representatives to Anchorage, Alaska. Moves to restructure the program gained momentum.
In 2012 the Citizens Advisory Board called a committee to begin re-writing the Citizens' Participation Plan. City Council member Steven Hoyt submitted a resolution for the Council to appoint its own committee to accomplish the same goal. The amended plan was adopted on May 14, 2013.
In 2022 some members of the City Council aired dissatisfaction with low attendance at neighborhood association meetings and low participation in neighborhood elections, but no proposals for changing the system were put forward.
A The Birmingham Times report in 2023 found a consensus that the Citizen Participation Program no longer wielded the influence it once had. Various officials blamed the loss on "a lack of training and resources, as well as apathy from residents." A contrast was drawn between a few active neighborhood associations which are effective, versus a large segment of "nonfunctional" associations. Others noted that technology has given more residents direct access to city leaders, reducing the importance of intermediary associations.
- "CBNO/MAC National Review of Citizen Participation Programs" (November 2003) Committee for a Better New Orleans
- Bryant, Joseph D. (April 6, 2012) "Birmingham City Council mulls rewriting neighborhood association bylaws." The Birmingham News
- Prickett, Sam (September 13, 2022) "Birmingham Council Discusses Changing the Neighborhood Association Structure." BirminghamWatch
- Michaels, Ryan (September 27, 2023) "The Demise of Birmingham’s Once Powerful Neighborhood Associations." The Birmingham Times