People seem to have only so much bandwidth for how big their community of friends and acquaintances can get. In anthropology, there’s a theory called Dunbar’s number, which says the limit is 150 people.
It might be right. It might be wrong. But it sure seems right that people have a finite limit. And that can make it more challenging for a city to connect with its residents. Residents may not have the time or the interest.
Bend created 13 neighborhood associations to help bridge that gap. Formally, the associations must be included in the discussion when land use changes are made, according to city code. Bend city councilors and city staff also try to use associations to gather input on other matters and to spread information to communities.
How effective are they? There’s no easy way to answer that. The city has put some effort into making them more effective, providing training and staffing. The associations have certainly helped shape discussion about how neighborhoods should be informed about new developments. They also helped shape decisions about some local neighborhood safety projects. Important stuff.
One question the associations are looking at now is their very boundaries. Bend is growing. Neighborhoods are changing. Should the boundaries change? Where does one neighborhood end and another begin? Do some associations have outsized influence? Should the associations align with school boundaries? Is there a more equitable way to draw the lines? Should Bend’s new Human Rights Commission be consulted?
If you aren’t interested, well that’s OK. But for all their serious limitations, neighborhood associations can be credible resident participation in a democracy. They have helped develop community-based solutions for community-based problems and for some citywide problems.
You can get involved in the debate about boundaries. There’s going to be a meeting on Tuesday about it. There’s more information on the city’s website. And if you want to get involved in your neighborhood association, there’s information there about that, too. Neighborhood associations can only ever be as good as the people who volunteer to make them up.