Nearly 11,000 people live downtown and for newcomers and civic novices, it can be hard to figure out how to get involved in local government decision making. Leo Suarez and Dylan Bouterse, downtown Raleigh residents and founders of the new Downtown CAC, want to help show folks the different ways.
Unlike Raleigh’s 19 other CACs (Citizen Advisory Councils), the Downtown CAC, which launched in August, is not affiliated with the City of Raleigh. Downtowners who join the group—it is open to all—already belong to one of a handful of official CACs, citizen-led groups that meet monthly where residents discuss issues pertaining to their districts and neighborhoods and, if they reside within the CAC’s boundaries, may vote on development proposals (such as rezonings). Votes are reported to the City Council.
The five to six official CACs cover different swathes of downtown’s geography but the volunteer-driven Downtown CAC covers it all. Led by a group of around a dozen planning team members, the Downtown CAC doesn’t hold formal meetings. Instead, members gather once a month at restaurants and bars to meet, mingle and talk about downtown issues. They also receive a newsletter and interact online through Slack, the Downtown CAC’s website and social media channels. The goal, the founders say, is for people to meet other downtown residents and learn how they can get their voices heard on issues that they care about.
“If there is an issue that you’re interested in, we want to route you to the right place,” Suarez says.
Part of the idea for the Downtown CAC arose from the “abysmal attendance rates,” in Bouterse’s words, at official CAC and other City meetings.
“I think there is a problem there,” he says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the fault of any particular CAC but attempts to engage a new concentration of residents, largely made up of renters, are not very effective. We are hoping to come up with a creative way to get their attention, let them know they have the opportunity to have a voice whether it’s by a vote at their CAC or a public hearing in front of a commission or the City Council.”
Renters, especially, bring fresh perspectives, Suarez says, and are “ready and willing to get in and give some feedback.”
“If we can hook them with a different, simple way of feeding them into the system, I think we could activate more people to attend city meetings and the city can get a more varied view of how people really think about some of the stuff that’s coming through,” Suarez says.
“We’re not here to push an agenda,” says Bouterse. “It’s about trying to get other people to know where and how they can have a voice, not what voice to have.”
Learn more about the Downtown CAC and subscribe to the newsletter at downtowncac.org; follow the group on Twitter and Facebook or attend the next social mixer at Transfer Co. Food Hall on October 23.