With the constant onslaught of national news, it's easy to lose track of how much of our daily lives are affected by local decisions and actions.

Think about your day — your daily routine, the choices you make, and the things you love. Local forces are at work more often than not. That means the future of our public spaces, commercial corridors, schools, and neighborhoods is driven by local change makers. That means you.

Luckily, Philadelphia is blessed to have a network of neighborhood-based organizations that run on the blood, sweat, tears, and love of dedicated citizens and community development professionals who step up every day to care for the city we call home.

Navigating that network can be difficult and confusing. What do all those acronyms mean? Which civic groups do what? How do you contact them?

That's where organizations like ours come in. Keep Philadelphia Beautiful and the North 5th Street Revitalization Project serve as liaisons between city government and hyperlocal groups and we wanted to offer a quick guide to some of the city's major types of civic organizations.

Community Development Corporations (CDCs) are the lifeblood of many neighborhoods. While they are traditionally known for affordable housing development, in Philadelphia they engage in a wide range of activities. Many

  • Run commercial corridor street-cleaning programs and other beautification initiatives;

  • Have commercial corridor managers who provide technical assistance to small businesses, coordinate business associations, and work to attract and retain small businesses;

  • Run social service programs such as housing counseling and employment services; and

  • Organize neighborhood advisory committees, which consist of community leaders who spearhead projects they assess to be most critical.

Other civic organizations concentrate on distinct neighborhood concerns.

  • Many parks, schools, and recreation centers have friends' groups and advisory councils;

  • Civic or neighborhood associations often concentrate on zoning matters (though many, like CDCs, take on a variety of program efforts); and

  • Registered block captains through the Streets Department are great examples of individuals taking pride and ownership of their neighborhood.

Last but not least, registered community organizations (RCOs), established when the city revamped its zoning code in 2012, are charged with garnering neighborhood input on zoning decisions. CDCs, civic associations, or other neighborhood based groups can apply to the Planning Commission to receive RCO status (renewable every two years).

How do you find the organizations in your area? Start with our friends at the Philadelphia Association of CDCs (pacdc.org), the Planning Commission's list of RCOs (phila.gov/cityplanning), and Keep Philadelphia Beautiful's Community Cleanup Resource Guide (keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org/resources). Or contact us via email (info@keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org) or by phone, 215-854-4000.

Once you figure out the civic infrastructure in your neighborhood, you can get involved in making the decisions that will shape your community. Giving of yourself is both fulfilling and fun. Volunteers are the backbone of organizations like ours — from assisting with neighborhood cleanups to using people's expertise to start new projects. And we need as many voices as possible at community meetings; one voice can spark lasting change. We've seen it happen.

Here's your homework assignment. Attend your next community meeting, and bring along a friend or family member.

Michelle Feldman is director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful. michelle@keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org
Stephanie Michel is director of the North 5th Street Revitalization Project. stephanie@shopnorth5th.com