- During a Sunday South by Southwest (SXSW) panel discussion in Austin, TX dubbed "Transforming Cities Through Citizens," San Jose, CA Mayor Sam Liccardo explained that, in order for citizens to gain trust in city government and policymaking, they must first learn to trust each other.
- "I don't want to pretend that somehow or another we’re just gonna instill people with trust in government," Liccardo said. "The bigger issue that we face as a country right now is that we don't trust each other. Being able to engage people in a way that enables them to engage with other residents is often far more valuable [that trying to instill trust in government]." He continued to explain that peer-to-peer relationships can "get you a long way" in advancing citizen-centric initiatives.
- Cities of Service Executive Director Myung Lee and Detroit's Chief of Service & Infrastructure Arthur Jemison joined Liccardo on this panel and both echoed his thoughts on building trust, with Lee noting that fostering social cohesion can result in social capital.
At the core of every city is its citizens; civic engagement and interest is crucial for successful deployment of people-focused initiatives. The concept is made more challenging, however, as a lack in trust in local government pervades the nation. Lee referenced the Edelman Trust Barometer, which notes in its most recent findings that 47% of the general public around the globe has distrust in government. That number drops to 40% when looking at the U.S. public.
Lee highlighted efforts such as Cities of Service's Love Your Block program, which encourages city leaders to engage citizens in efforts to revitalize city neighborhoods through cleanup and beautification, and further spur social buy-in. "A recent study by the Urban Institute found that the connection that Love Your Block forges between city leaders and citizens at the neighborhood level can be one of the most important catalysts for collective action by neighborhood residents," the website reads.
Jemison suggested Project Green Light Detroit is helping to bolster community trust in his city. The "public-private-community partnership" deploys actual green lights at gas stations, stores and residential properties across Detroit, each of which is connected to a closed caption camera that police can utilize to identify and prevent criminal behavior. Jemison said the project has been "very successful" with over 500 participants across the city who have gotten involved and now have a larger stake in advancing trust and security in the community and among each other.
"It's on city leaders to make engagement accessible," said Liccardo, noting that "every city should be doing more" to make civic engagement a natural and easy party of local democracy — it shouldn't be the responsibility of the resident. He said city leaders "have to be sensitive to the diversity of ways people can engage," and technology can be an invaluable tool in reaching the most residents.