A review of Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Unit system has entered a public survey phase as it heads toward a wrap-up report early next year.

The NPU system was established in 1974 by Mayor Maynard Jackson as a way for residents to give input on the city’s long-term development plan, in an era when many American cities created similar neighborhood groups. Today, there are 25 NPUs around the city, each named for a letter of the alphabet, serving a broader purpose of giving and getting information on virtually every city department. Buckhead covered by parts of NPUs A, B, C and E.

The logo of the Center for Civic Innovation’s Neighborhood Planning Unit system review process.

A downtown nonprofit called the Center for Civic Innovation is undertaking the first review of the NPU system its 45-year history with an eye to recommending short- and long-term reforms.

In October, CCI launched a public survey at surveyatl.org. “Do you know what a Neighborhood Planning Unit is?” asks one of the basic questions in the survey.

It also asks about how people find out local information and whether there should be city engagement methods beyond the NPU process. Information about the respondents’ level of civic involvement is also surveyed, such as whether they voted in the 2016 elections.

CCI did not respond to questions, but said in an email announcing that survey that engagement remains the focus.

“We believe that community engagement is at the center of solving inequality in Atlanta,” the email said. “Much of our inequality was intentionally designed so it will require intentional design to correct it. Community engagement isn’t just a checkbox — it’s an ongoing, trust-building process that brings the needs and voices of residents into decision-making processes.”

CCI is conducting a separate survey and interview of NPU leaders. NPU B chair Nancy Bliwise said she and board member Kim Shorter were interviewed in September by a CCI staffer. Bliwise said most of the conversation was about “what motivated us to serve on NPU as well as what we saw as its strengths and weaknesses.”

The survey of NPU leaders asks some demographic information about them, as well as such topics as how they feel about the level of support the city provides and how much NPU decisions influence officials.

The survey also asks how the NPU leader sees their role, suggesting such descriptions as liaison, advocate, technical assistant, educator, mediator, facilitator and organizer.

CCI began its review process in spring 2019 and aims to conclude it in spring of 2021.

The final phase of the process is described on the CCI website as “Advocating — developing recommendations and ideas in collaboration with NPU residents for short-term and long-term improvement.”

CCI Executive Director Rohit Malhotra previously the group continues to meet monthly with Department of City Planning officials, and has formed an advisory board whose members include former city planning chief Leon Eplan and Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, a marketing expert and former wife of Mayor Jackson.

City Councilmember Antonio Brown has separately filed legislation seeking to reform the NPU system, largely by making the workings of each board uniform and requiring a training process. The proposal has not been received well by Buckhead’s NPUs, which generally think they’re doing fine. The impact of NPU decisions on city policy-making is a theme of local concerns.

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John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.