Q&A with Georgie Rasco, executive director of Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma 

click to enlarge Neighborhood Alliance director Georgie Rasco during a Q&A at the Oklahoma Gazette in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 9, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Neighborhood Alliance director Georgie Rasco during a Q&A at the Oklahoma Gazette in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 9, 2015.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a monthlong series that explores the neighborhoods in urban Oklahoma City. Pick up next week’s Oklahoma Gazette for more coverage.

For almost four decades, Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma (NACOK) has been helping hundreds of communities organize in an effort to improve their quality of life and have a seat at the table when it comes to city development.

However, as Oklahoma City continues to evolve, neighborhoods have to reconsider how they organize, meet and communicate. Neighborhood associations and the alliance are being forced to adapt and create new methods.

As part of Oklahoma Gazette’s monthlong series on neighborhoods, Georgie Rasco, executive director of NACOK, answered some questions on the future of neighborhood associations, how to form one and why OKC has embraced the concept of tight-knit communities.

Oklahoma Gazette (OG): What is the recipe for a thriving neighborhood? Georgie Rasco (GR): Every single neighborhood is different. There is no plan that we can plop down in front of every neighborhood and say, “Do A, B and C and you are going to be happy, healthy and safe.” So what we have to do is work individually with the neighborhood and discover where it’s located, what kind of people live there and what the people living there really want out of their neighborhood. Do they want to be more walkable and have more bike routes? Do they really want to have more of a connection with their grade school? Are they an older neighborhood or a place with lots of young people? All of that has to be considered when talking about a great neighborhood.

OG: Is that a challenge for some neighborhood leaders? GR: That process is absolutely a challenge for almost everyone who walks into our office. There are some basics that we want to see if you are going to have an actual neighborhood association; we want you to be incorporated, have a set of bylaws, elect a leadership team; we want you to be transparent in your business activities. Those are just good basics of any neighborhood association that is collecting money. Sometimes individuals get a little nervous when we start to tell them those things, but when we tell them the reasons, such as the protections that come along with being associated, then they start to understand that once those things are in place, they can get on with the fun things that create a great neighborhood.

OG: It seems like neighborhood revival is thriving in OKC right now. What do you credit that to? GR: I think the city of Oklahoma City got scared several years ago. The planners, the people in power, even the citizens when we started to really look at what sprawl is doing to us. We began trying to figure out what it is that’s going to bring people back to these fabulous inner-city neighborhoods. That was going to take a concerted effort on many people’s parts, which I think has happened over the last several years. Some very creative developers have come in and done some very wonderful things. The school system is working really hard to be competitive with outlying school systems. The [new] sidewalks, the trails, all of that combined have made people rethink what it means for a family to live closer to downtown, which is nothing but beneficial for the entire city.

OG: How is neighborhood organization evolving in OKC? GR: We are challenged right now in thinking about what a neighborhood association looks like in 2020. The things that took place even 11 years ago when I came onboard, or even 38 years ago, when this organization started, are all changing. You used to have groups of people getting together maybe once a month and listening to a speaker. That’s pretty much gone. Nobody has the time to come to a meeting every month, and nobody really wants to come to a grade school and hear a presentation on code enforcement. But there are a lot of different ways now to get that information out, and neighborhood associations have to move along with the times. Providing a Facebook page, providing a website, getting on social media to let people know tips on code enforcement — it’s a whole different way of interacting, even from what it was 11 years ago.

OG: Are you finding that the new generation of OKC residents are getting involved in neighborhood revival and organizing? GR: I think neighborhoods have embraced the new generation and you are seeing absolutely wonderful things. In Linwood, for example, they have lots of people who have lived there for decades, but a lot of new families are moving in. They are starting to see things like stroller clubs, where in the mornings, all of the young moms meet at their little free library and then they can go on walks together. They have a lot of activities that are geared toward young families that are living there. You might not see those same young people at association meetings, but in those conversations and gatherings at things like the stroller club, they are talking about things like adding a small park or about the streets or the city council elections. So they are talking about their little part of the city while they are socializing. There’s a lot of ways to be active in your neighborhood besides coming to a meeting once a month.

OG: What is your advice for a person who wants to improve their neighborhood, which might lack an organized association? GR: We get a lot of types of [questions], and we sit down and talk with them to discover what it is that is really driving that [desire] to organize. Have they had a crime problem? Have they seen graffiti? Do they just want to get to know their neighbors more? Is there a bond issue coming up and they want to make sure their neighborhood gets what they need? We want to know what it is that is driving that conversation [to start a neighborhood association]. If the need really is a neighborhood association, which is still our bread and butter, we have a free training every single month. The first Monday of every month is a training at our office on how to organize and how to be a good neighborhood officer. The first Tuesday is how to organize and be a good officer in a mandatory [neighborhood] association. We work with both mandatory and voluntary [associations], but the inner city is primarily full of voluntary associations.

Print headline: Q&A, Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma leader Georgie Rasco talks with Oklahoma Gazette about the importance of community involvement in city development.

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