During the COVID-19 pandemic, many communities have faced unprecedented challenges. No one understands these challenges better than local residents, but they’re often left out of the decisionmaking process.

This is particularly true in disinvested neighborhoods. And because of nearly a century of racist policies and practices that have intentionally excluded people of color, residents of color are often disproportionally represented in disinvested neighborhoods.

As America focuses on building back from the COVID-19 pandemic, a renewed commitment to engaging citizens can help mayors and city leaders address racial legacies and advance equity in their communities. A citizen engagement model called Love Your Block offers city leaders lessons on how to engage residents’ energy and opinions.

The Love Your Block model

The Love Your Block program supports city residents in hands-on revitalization of their own neighborhoods. The 10 cities selected to receive 2018 Love Your Block competitive grants each received up to $25,000 over two years, help from AmeriCorps VISTA members, and technical assistance from Cities of Service experts. In turn, the cities disbursed minigrants of $200 to $2,000 to community groups, block clubs, and informal, volunteer groups to address blight in low-income, high-crime areas.

As part of the program, high-level city officials, such as deputy mayors, neighborhood engagement coordinators, and department heads, work directly with the teams to provide resources and staff, including sanitation services, access to parks and recreation space, and public health and safety workers.

recent Urban Institute study found the minigrant projects formed by the 10 cities in the 2018 Love Your Block cohort collectively carted away 299,997 pounds of trash, cleaned 1,040 acres of vacant grounds, and removed of 1,313 square feet of graffiti, all while creating 637 new features, such as pocket parks, and planting 146 trees.

Our study also validated an earlier Urban Institute report that found the direct connections forged between city leaders and citizens can catalyze collective neighborhood action, primarily because it builds social capital and cohesion among everyday citizens.

Read the full article about Love Your Block by Mary Bogle at Urban Institute.