Title: Civic Empowerment Coordinator
City: El Paso, Texas
One of Christian Lopez’s first jobs out of college was pitching El Paso as a destination for conventions and business meetings. That role was all about getting out-of-towners to appreciate the food, culture, and other qualities that make it unique.
Today, Lopez is still focused on El Paso’s unique strengths—but now it’s El Paso residents he’s talking to every day. As Civic Empowerment Coordinator in the city’s Department of Community & Human Development, he manages a handful of programs focused on building stronger neighborhoods.
One of those programs is Love Your Block, which Lopez runs with funding and technical assistance from the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University. It’s a bottom-up neighborhood revitalization program that engages volunteers in resident-led cleanup projects and has been shown to build social capital and build trust between residents and local government. In the program’s first year in El Paso working in three historic neighborhoods on the border with Mexico, Lopez and his team engaged nearly 200 residents and volunteers; during one recent block cleanup, they hauled away some 5,600 pounds of trash.
What has residents in these neighborhoods especially excited, Lopez says, is livening up the streetscape with bright murals. He has engaged a number of artists to collaborate with residents on scenes to adorn bare walls of houses and markets. Work on the first of them started last weekend, and more are set to start in the coming weeks.
One of those murals will feature the mascots of all the local schools, including schools whose permanent closures left scars in the community that have not fully healed. Students will be part of the painting crews. “The art speaks volumes,” Lopez says. “That’s how they tell their story, and how they feel the story can connect with the most people. It speaks to their pride, their culture, what they’ve been through. That’s what does it.”
Pro tip: “Being informal goes a long way when trying to establish a connection with residents. It can help when they see that you don’t have ‘government official’ on your chest, but you are simply a human who happens to represent the city.”