Turning abandoned homes into community centers. Opening government data to provide citizens the opportunity to create businesses and build apps. Strengthening community leaders through empowered neighborhood associations. These three ideas dominated the discussion of the Jersey City Citizens Campaign Government Innovation Task Force.
Residents of Jersey City Heights and Greenville began the discussion by noting the spread of abandoned homes in their neighborhoods. These homes, in addition to being eye-sores, attract squatters, wild animals, and criminals. Residents knew that Jersey City keeps a list of abandoned homes but were unsure how to access it and whether the City has implemented national best practices developed during the foreclosure crisis. Sandra Reese, Barbara Camacho, and James Solomon agreed to research the national and local picture before our next meeting.
John Hanussak introduced the idea of empowering neighborhood associations to strengthen communities. He noted that some neighborhood associations hold much greater sway in City Hall than others while some communities do not have an organization to represent them! He and others suggested training existing associations to improve their effectiveness and organizing associations in neighborhoods without one. Furthermore, one participant suggested advocating for participatory budgeting projects. Implemented in cities such as Brooklyn and Boston, these projects allocate a sum of money to citizens of a specific neighborhood. Those citizens then both propose projects to use the funds and vote on which ideas will receive the money. Toby Bruno and Elda Pinchinat will bring additional information and solutions to the next meeting.
Open JC’s Joshua Parkhurst and James Solomon argued for the merits of an open data policy. Adopted in almost all major American cities, open data involves placing government datasets (examples include spending and revenue numbers, crime types and locations, and pothole filling requests and responses) online where any citizen can use them. Key benefits to open data include greater transparency and accountability where citizens use the data to hold government accountable for its actions. Joshua, who has written a draft open data ordinance for Jersey City, explained the finer points of the legislation. Pearl Park, Joshua, and James will work together to research the issue and provide
Finally, Dan Levin of Civic JC, ended the meeting with a discussion of many good government issues including the proposed limitation of comments at City Council meetings, the end of televised comments at the Board of Education, and the Loews Theatre suit. We agreed to discuss these in more depth at the next meeting on August 27.