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Q&A Series with Mayor Cownie of Des Moines, IA

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This month we hear from Mayor T.M. Franklin Cownie of the City of Des Moines, IA. The City of Des Moines received a 3-STAR Community designation in May of 2014 and became the first certified STAR Community in Iowa. In our Q&A with Mayor Cownie, we explore how Des Moines works hard to ensure its residents live in a safe community by embracing community engagement and programs that engage its citizens.

mayorcownieHow does Des Moines makes topics such as community engagement and safe communities a part of the mission of sustainability?

In Des Moines we recognize the numerous benefits with having a safe and engaged community, including a greater diversity of views expressed, mutual learning among participants, and improved relationships among stakeholders. These important characteristics and more, ultimately support stronger networks of communities that can work towards ensuring the well-being of our local population and ecosystems now and into future generations. We recognize that environmental, social, and economic issues are interrelated and that these issues should be addressed holistically to ensure our future growth. By prioritizing safe communities with active community members, we do our best to enable everyone at any level to be contributors in creating a connected healthy, livable, vibrant city. A city that develops in harmony with our ecological characteristics.

The City of Des Moines scored very well in the Health & Safety goal area and did particularly well in the Emergency Prevention & Response and Safe Communities objectives. These are priorities for all communities, but how does Des Moines keep this a priority?

There are many positive ripple-effects the City sees by focusing on health and safety, which makes it easier to regularly prioritize. We’ve seen this to be true in Des Moines over and over. I will elaborate on this later, but as a quick example, our Police Department has heavily invested in building trusting relationships with the community through a variety of programs and initiatives. As a result, we are finding that our community members want to be engaged locally in what’s happening not only related to preventing violence or other policing issues, but also in broader community issues like supporting more walkable communities and creating greater access to food.

How does Des Moines approach community policing?

The approach is simple. Engage and enable our citizens by supporting and empowering them by the use of specific and proven programs. The city and all of its departments are committed to work in harmony with our neighborhood groups. Specific goals are identified and met with the intent of exceeding citizen expectations.

What role do programs such as the Community Ambassadors Program and the Citizens Academy play in the community?

The Community Ambassadors Program (CAP) and the Citizen’s Academy are two of the finest examples of community engagement our Police Department offers and allows inclusion between the City and its citizens. The CAP is a unique blend of many different community engagement systems with a single goal in mind; the building of trust is paramount in order for communities to thrive. CAP members are community leaders that volunteer their time to show the communities that unity between our citizens and Police Department is a recipe for success.

The Citizen’s Academy provides yet another perspective of community engagement.  In the past, the need to inform and educate our citizenry about the Police Department was identified. The Citizen’s Academy allows our everyday citizens to not only learn about how the Police Department operates but also allows for fostering of trust through honesty and transparency.

The City also scored well in the Community Cohesion objective; a big component of this is the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. How does the Neighborhood Revitalization Program engage citizens and promote cohesion?

The City has been working directly with citizens through our Neighborhood Revitalization Program for over 25 years. We know that our best source of knowledge and often best partners for change are the residents of the neighborhoods where we’re working. Neighborhood associations choose to participate in our Revitalization Program to develop a plan for the future of their area, and the priorities and goals of that plan reflect the concerns and aspirations of residents and other neighborhood stakeholders. It is critical for the City to listen and respond to citizens’ concerns while working with them to develop a vision for the future. The planning process encourages a diverse group of people to come together and find consensus, drawing on what they have most in common – the place they call home, and the desire for that home to be safe and attractive.

Partnerships often play a key role in developing community relationships. How does the City cultivate partnerships to work with the community and what organizations are key stakeholders?

People often comment that Des Moines is unique. It’s rare to see a community that rallies behind projects in a collaborative way the way we do. We have leaders in government, business, and non-profit sectors all coming together, not just in Des Moines but across our region, to work towards making this place the best it can be. The City knows that we can’t do everything on our own. It benefits us to reach out and find partners that can help us meet our goals. Part of that relationship is also figuring out how the City can support them or create a partnership that is mutually beneficial. We have over 50 neighborhood associations in Des Moines, a strong faith-based community, engaged Chambers of Commerce and corporate leaders, committed non-profits, excellent healthcare and education institutions, and a dedicated philanthropic community. Our biggest successes have been achieved when all sectors of our community work together. People in Des Moines are accessible, and are usually willing to help when asked.

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