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The City of Palo Alto and Know Your Neighbor

The City of Palo Alto and Know Your Neighbor by Ryan Henderson

Palo-AltoI’ve used this blog space in past months to advocate for what I believe to be some of the most effective ways local governments increase public participation within their communities. Inevitably, these programs are in some way tied to getting its citizens to better know one another and to volunteer in their community. It’s my strong belief that a local government will see an increase in governmental participation when it promotes and advocates ways for neighbors to connect with neighbors. It’s also my belief that government participation is cultivated when neighbors care about where they live and care about those who live in their community. I recently came across a program out of Palo Alto, California that aims at connecting neighbors with neighbors, building community, and increasing public participation.

In April 2013, the City of Palo Alto launched a new one-year pilot grant program called Know Your Neighbor. The program was conceived as a desire to help strengthen community by encouraging interaction between different generations and culture. It was developed to improve the quality of life of the neighborhoods in Palo Alto through creative community events and activities. The idea was to encourage and incentivize neighborhoods to create events that build community, develop or renew neighborhood relationships, encourage interaction between generations and cultures, and develop collaborative partnerships between Palo Alto neighborhoods and the City.

Seeing the potential benefit of Know Your Neighbor, the City of Palo Alto allocated $25,000 for available grants. Neighbors could apply for grants up to $1,000 each for activities that achieve the community building goal. On a “first come, first serve” basis grant applications were judged and awarded based on the activities that met eligibility requirements. Activities had to focus on one or more of the following areas:

  1. Increase communication among neighbors.
  2. Enhance neighborhoods pride and identity.
  3. Bring both longstanding and new neighbors together in their neighborhoods and seek to incorporate interaction between generations and cultures.
  4. Create new and innovative ideas for neighborhoods events.

It was also made clear that activities and events had to be completed within six months of receiving notification from the City of grant award. During the pilot run for Know Your Neighbor, the City of Palo Alto received 36 grant applications with 23 ultimately being approved. The grants went on to fund activities such as block parties, emergency preparedness events and unique events like Camp Iris, Palo Alto Yoga Day, Barron Park’s Movie in the Park, College Terrace Community Green Events, and Downtown North Food Truck Friday Nights.

The initial Know Your Neighbor pilot program was an unequivocal success. The City, along with the stipulations outlined at the onset of the grant award, required the participants to complete post event surveys. The surveys indicated what the City hoped they would. Communication amongst neighbors increased and email addresses were collected to create email distribution lists. They also indicated that connection with neighborhood pride and identity also increased. In a staff report by the City Manager to the Palo Alto Council, it was noted that one neighborhood event led to the establishment of a neighborhood watch program. It was also noted that the events held through the grant program “brought both longstanding and new neighbors together in their neighborhoods and incorporated interaction between generations and culture” (Update on 2013 Know Your Neighbor).

As equally important as the fact that neighbors got to meet and talk to their neighbors, was that Know Your Neighbor also brought neighbors together to discuss important city issues and how to develop a voice through their neighborhood associations. The program got people discussing development issues and how to bring parks to their neighborhoods. The program connected neighbors with neighbors, got communities to care about one another, and helped neighborhoods understand what was happening in City Hall.

The pilot program was made official in 2014 as the Palo Alto City Council allocated $25,000 to Know Your Neighbor.

Work Cited

Palo Alto (California) Update on 2013 Know Your Neighbor Grant Program and Direction to Continue Pilot for One Year. City Manager (2014). Electronic.

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