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Getting Power by Giving It Away

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Delray Beach is a small city on Florida’s Atlantic coast, not far from West Palm Beach. There are 50,000 residents — and 65 neighborhood associations. There are also 17 community advisory boards and another dozen or so business groups and task forces. If your neighborhood or interest group doesn’t have an association, the city of Delray Beach will send over a community development specialist to help organize one.

No, city leaders aren’t crazy. They’ve merely discovered that the more organized their citizens are — and the more intimately they’re involved in community problem-solving — the more progress the city makes. Delray Beach uses these associations to work on community problems. And Delray has made a lot of progress in the past decade, from restoring its downtown, to bolstering its schools, to turning around its racial problems. In 1993, it was named an All-America City by the National Civic League.

Delray Beach isn’t the only place where a link has been found between government effectiveness, economic development, quality of life, and citizen participation. …

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