Learning from a Neighborhood in the Bronx
In June 2016, Public Agenda conducted a scan of the Norwood neighborhood in the Bronx on behalf of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Service and the Community Affairs Unit that explored how residents were mobilizing around shared issues and concerns, as well as the structures and supports that catalyze engagement. This ranged from volunteering to organizing to advocacy. The Norwood section of the Bronx has some of the lowest volunteerism rates in the city, making it a good neighborhood from which to learn and share findings in order to build more sustainable engagement in communities city-wide.
Public Agenda’s engagement team carried out on-the-street interviews with randomly selected Norwood residents in the centrally-located Williamsbridge Oval park. The Public Engagement team’s questions asked about residents’ knowledge of NYC government processes for engaging residents, including the community board, the locally appointed community advisory group, and participatory budgeting (PB), a process helping New Yorkers determine how the city spends discretionary capital funds. (See Public Agenda’s 2020 report “Shifting Priorities: Participatory Budgeting in New York City” for more information about the topic).
Answers showed a low level of awareness of community engagement methods and an information bubble. Only fifteen percent of the people in Norwood said they knew about the community board and residents shared that they received their news from neighborhood-level news sources like the Norwood News and News 12 Bronx.
Revisiting Norwood in 2020
Public Agenda returned to the Norwood neighborhood in the fall of 2020 to ask the same questions and see how the community had changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although now 40% of residents were familiar with the community board, none of the residents have ever attended a meeting. In 2020, residents also reported that they received their news from a more diverse range of sources including word of mouth, school, Google, social media sources like Instagram and Facebook, and News Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, and 12. Most residents of Norwood said they have not become more involved in their community since COVID-19.