The population in Takoma Park is approximately 17,000 people, the majority being people of color: 34% black or African American, 14.5% Hispanic or Latinx, 4.4% Asian, 43.3% white, and 3.8% Other. The housing make up of the City is nearly an even split with 53% of homes owner-occupied and the remaining 47% occupied by renters. Additionally, homeownership rates are higher for white families (74%) compared to black (23%) and Latinx (43%) families.
The City currently engages residents offline through City Council meetings and small group meetings. Residents also engage with the City online through email, neighborhood listservs, and social media. The vast majority of the residents that reach out to the City are older white homeowners who greatly outweigh their neighbors in requests, input, and feedback to City staff and Council. Often times there are little to no residents of color in public meetings and no comments received from them even when the topics of discussion directly affect them. Additionally, renters are also less like to interact with the City unless in a transaction through the Housing and Community Development Department and usually because of a personal housing crisis. Lastly, there are language and cultural barriers that hinder residents from engaging with City leadership and staff. American civic education and the resulting feeling of entitlement to government services and responses are not universally taught and therefore create a distance between the City and some of its foreign born residents.
This results in:
- Disproportionate representation of residents and skewed understanding of their needs
- Lack of diversity in opinion and input
- Uneven distribution of scarce City resources and perpetuation of the "squeaky wheel" analogy
- Institutionalized racial inequity - City leadership and staff being most responsive to older white homeowners.
The City of Takoma Park seeks a solution that would have the following outcomes:
- Increased diversity of residents providing input into the operation of the City
- Centralized online community engagement tools with various language capacity for City projects (including public works, housing, planning, and economic development)
- Visually map where community feedback, input, and requests are coming from in the City
- Support the civic education of all City residents to effectively participate in their government
- Software with language capability
- City resources are more equitably distributed among residents (including budget, staff time, services, etc.)