The City of Charlotte, North Carolina, bases its neighborhood improvement strategy on results of biennial studies in which 173 neighborhoods are evaluated on explicit quality-of-life indicators. Neighborhoods rated “challenged” are targeted for most redevelopment investment, and their residents are engaged in shaping improvement efforts and making them work. This results-based approach is consistent with Charlotte’s leadership in managing for results since 1971, including becoming the first city to apply the strategic balanced scorecard approach to manage for results to the entire municipal organization in the mid-1990s. The neighborhood development balanced scorecard is consistent with the overall city government scorecard and includes initiatives and performance measures for managing the neighborhood development strategy.
Benchmarking to Keep Improving Neighborhood Quality of Life
Charlotte began monitoring the quality of life in neighborhoods in the core of the city called the “City Within a City” (CWAC) in 1993. Since 2000, neighborhoods covering the entire city have been evaluated every two years by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. They measure 20 indicators to assess neighborhoods along four dimensions: social, crime, physical, and economic. Using a weighted scale, neighborhoods are rated “stable,” “transitioning,” and “challenged.” This evaluation is both a policy tool to determine investment priorities, and a benchmarking tool to assess effectiveness of improvement efforts and to keep “ratcheting up” quality of life. With each successive study, the criteria for reaching each benchmark have shifted upwards. Thus, a neighborhood can slip from stable to transitioning or transitioning to challenged if it remains static, which challenges the government and citizens to keep helping neighborhoods improve. So, while the 2006 Quality of Life Study showed a small decrease in stable neighborhoods, the reduction in challenged neighborhoods is consistent with an overall increase in the quality of life of city neighborhoods, based on indicators measured. Charlotte posts its Quality of Life Study on the web with a map showing ratings of all neighborhoods, and a way for citizens to enter their address to find data for all indicators (“variables”) for their neighborhood (“NSA” or “neighborhood statistical area”) compared with data for the citywide totals and averages.
Charlotte Engages Citizens in Neighborhood Improvement and Develops Citizen Leaders
The City of Charlotte engages citizens in quality of life issues, especially in neighborhoods rated “challenged.” Citizens were initially consulted on aspects of the quality of life that should be studied and in setting geographic boundaries of the 173 “neighborhood statistical areas.” Since then, residents have been engaged in taking ownership of improving challenged neighborhoods.
In Charlotte, citizens play multiple roles, including helping to set the agenda for neighborhood change in the planning process for revitalization, acting as co-producers of key improvements, and taking on leadership roles to keep their neighborhoods moving forward. The City sees active residents as being integral to solving problems because of their specialized knowledge of their neighborhoods and relationships with their neighbors to keep the community engaged in improving and maintaining the quality of life. In neighborhoods targeted for revitalization, the City helps organize implementation teams, with community members accountable for accomplishing steps in the revitalization plan.
An important resource provided by the city to help develop local leaders is the Community University. It offers 36 courses in three tracks: leadership, organizational development, and resource development. Resource development courses help citizens access grants to increase investment in their neighborhoods. The Community University is marketed throughout the city, especially in neighborhoods targeted for improvement as a way to help residents reach the goals of their neighborhood revitalization plans. After citizens have been trained and gained capacity, they are encouraged to branch off and work with other groups, such as Leadership Charlotte, a project of the business community. The city government sees its cost and effort to engage and train citizens as a strategic investment to help the community build skills and sustain itself.
Neighborhood Cabinets Play an Important Government Leadership Role
The Neighborhood Cabinet is composed of leaders of departments of the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County that have an impact on neighborhoods. The purpose of the cabinet is to make sure departments and the city and county governments focus their investments on common strategic goals for community improvement, especially in revitalization neighborhoods, and to coordinate their efforts for better results in making neighborhoods stronger and safer. The cabinet has the ability to work on policy at both the city and county level. Members of the cabinet also serve as local government liaisons to the neighborhoods.
Charlotte is a Long-time Leader in Managing for Results and Using Balanced Scorecards
The City of Charlotte has been a leader in Managing for Results since 1971 when it was an early local government to use performance measurement to manage services to achieve performance objectives, and then it gradually adopted more performance-based practices such as program evaluation and performance budgeting. In 1993, the City started using a balanced scorecard approach that focuses on accomplishing goals driven by strategic city council policies, turning performance management into strategy management. Through citywide implementation, Charlotte became the first multi-purpose government to apply the balanced scorecard entity-wide, and has been a model for many public and nonprofit organizations that have implemented balanced scorecards. The balanced scorecard uses assumed cause-and-effect logic to create value chains that link service efforts and accomplishments to desired performance outcomes. The balanced scorecard also drives value chains deep within the organization to include internal business processes, investment in systems, and development of staff (as explained in chapter 9 of Results That Matter). Since its inception, Charlotte’s use of the scorecard has grown and evolved. For example, “Smart Growth” was added as a key strategic principle by the city council.
There is an overall scorecard for the city government called the corporate scorecard, and more targeted scorecards for each department (called “key business units” in Charlotte). The key business unit scorecards relate to the corporate scorecard through common strategic objectives. The key business units then have specific performance measures, targets, and strategic initiatives for their public services. For example, the strategic objective “Strengthen Neighborhoods” on the City of Charlotte Corporate Scorecard is realized on the Neighborhood Development Scorecard through strategic initiatives such as “effective neighborhood organizations” and “optimize revitalization neighborhoods,” and performance measures such as “number of revitalization neighborhoods graduated” (no longer needing the efforts of the city’s Neighborhood Action Plan initiative), “number of citizens trained,” “number of homeowners created with city funds,” and “percent of revitalization plan achieved.” The Neighborhood Development balanced scorecard is in the unit’s business plan accessible from the Neighborhood Development home page.