15 CANDLES, 96 POINTS OF LIGHT--In his farewell address last night, President Obama called on American citizens to take concrete steps to create positive change - to be action-oriented, engaged, and to get offline and talk to one another. Luke Klipp, president of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and recent winner of Streetsblog LA's 2016 Deborah Murphy Award for Excellence in Advocacy (named after our very own founder), explains how you can get to work right in your own neighborhood.
“Neighborhood Councils are the place where good ideas go to die.” That was me a few years ago, reflecting on frustrations serving on a neighborhood council that, at the time, was more interested in preserving parking spaces than in creating human spaces.
While neighborhood councils were created 15 years ago to better connect residents with their city government, oftentimes it can feel like they just stand in the way of progress. That said, I have since come to recognize the opportunities that these groups represent, and the ways in which people who care about walkability, bikeability, and street safety in their communities can create change on a micro-scale, albeit an important one, through their neighborhood councils.
Many neighborhood councils – though certainly not all – are ambivalent about or openly oppose the things that folks at Los Angeles Walks support: things like more and better-marked crosswalks, more stop signs, and slower street speeds. However, this is neither always the case, nor is it a done deal. As the strongest and clearest link to the constituents they serve, neighborhood councils are more responsive to citizen involvement than any other City function or body.
This brings me to why I’m writing this post and why you should care. In just my few years as an elected member of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, I’ve seen a sea change in our council’s approach to street safety measures and support for efforts to improve walkability and bikeability, as people who care about these things have shown up, spoken up, and gotten involved.
At a time when much of our world – at least nationally – has been turned upside down, local involvement is one of the best-available tools that we have to effect change.
I guarantee you that, while your neighborhood council may or may not be responsive to your concerns in the moment, if you stay involved, if you keep showing up, if you join a committee and/or run for a seat – you will effect change through your neighborhood council. You will get the marked crosswalk that your busy street needs. You will get your city councilmember to support new street tree plantings. You will get improved DASH service, or better public spaces, or new bike lanes.
But it takes time, it takes persistence, and it takes showing up. As someone who has sat through innumerable meetings hearing the same complaints about how there’s too much traffic and not enough parking; I can assure you that that voice of reason, the voice you can bring to the neighborhood council that says we must do better by our kids and our seniors and our businesses by improving our sidewalks and street trees and crosswalks – that is the voice that is so often missing and so often needed.
It’s a new year, and we need you more than ever. There’s never been a better time to get involved in your community, and your neighborhood council is a great place to start.