Hubert Humphrey once said, “The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor.” But what happens when those hands link to achieve shared civic goals? Does government become less impersonal, and do neighbors help more effectively?
These are among the questions explored by the Cities of Service Love Your Block program, an effort that connects city hall to citizens at the neighborhood level to accomplish public policy goals like blight mitigation and increased public safety. Under the Love Your Block model, city officials receive grants from Cities of Service to support community groups of volunteers to pursue their priorities jointly with the city.
Findings from a recent Urban Institute study—which I led in mapping the social networks created by Love Your Block projects, such as cleaning up neglected parks and properties in Boston, Massachusetts; Lansing, Michigan; and Phoenix, Arizona—suggest that Love Your Block increases social connectedness at the neighborhood level and builds the social capital of project participants by aligning the influence and attention of the mayor’s office with their efforts.
These findings suggest that Love Your Block might occupy a distinctive corner in a growing movement called the “New Localism.” In their book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak argue that power is shifting “downward from national governments and states to cities and metropolitan communities; horizontally from the public sector to networks of public, private, and civic actors.”
Katz and Nowak explore New Localism’s manifestation in the United States, but the movement is generally thought to have emerged in the United Kingdom in the 1990s under Prime Minister Tony Blair. New Localism emphasizes innovation and managerial excellence over political aims to improve local efforts like the operation of community hospitals.
No matter where you find it, “networked local governance” is an important concept in New Localism, with the emphasis most often placed on how well diverse groups of government officials, corporations, philanthropists, and civic leaders come together to produce shared outcomes.
Earlier this month, Cities of Service announced the winners of its second round of Love Your Block funding to fight blight in 10 “legacy” cities, which are old, industrial cities that have faced substantial population loss, such as Buffalo, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Richmond, Virginia.
Urban Institute researchers will continue analyzing the program’s effect on building social capital, and we’ll evaluate more tangible outcomes of the new round using metrics like land-use indicators, crime statistics, and counts of trash removed.
Love Your Block demonstrates the potential for using city-to-block collaborations to turn proximal strangers—such as local business owners, artists, teens, and people experiencing homelessness—into neighborhood allies who achieve hyperlocal results based on the conviction that what they are doing matters, not just to themselves but to their city.