Denver has these creatures called neighborhood associations. Most neighborhoods in the city have one. Unlike homeowner's associations in the suburbs (also usually a bad thing, in my opinion), they cannot compel anyone to pay dues and have a voluntary membership. Basically, the only privilege that they receive that differs from any other non-profit organization is that they receive notice of pending activity in the neighborhood from the city planning department, and due to their regular participation in the community input process of various city agencies tend to develop some respect with the staffs there.
My local neighborhood association is the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association. I am not a member. I don't pay dues. In point of fact, I can't think of a single occasion where I have ever agreed with a stance it has taken with the city, although I'm sure that there have been one or two. The WWPNA is fundamentally a conservative organization, not in the sense of Republican Party conservativism, but in the sense of being opposed to just about any change in the neighborhood.
They made a tremendous fuss over a neighborhood coffee shop that moved in to replace some other decepit business in an existing building, and wanted to use a patio to serve customers. They are seeking historic district status for the neighborhood, although it is such an amalgam of different architectural styles over such a broad span of time (including the present), that I'd be hard pressed to characterize its historic character. They are anti-pop top. They are anti-scrape. And, they absolutely abhor the notion that the neighborhood might get any more liquor licenses (hyperbole, yes, but not far from the truth). They are terrified that our neighborhood might end up looking like the Cherry Creek neighborhood -- where hundreds of acres as somewhat nasty, small postwar single family homes were scraped, lot by lot, to replace them with high end townhouses and duplexes. They are the sort of people who are convinced that they have a legitimate interest in meddling in their neighbors' business because it might affect their property values.
My attitude towards the issues they address is quite different. I see developments like pop tops (i.e. added another floor to an existing home) and scrapes (i.e. removing an existing building to replace it with another) as a natural part of the life of a growing city. I had a scrape take place immediately next door to me. The construction was noisy. There was a boundary dispute that had to be resolved. It has reduced the access to light I have in my own windows. But, fundamentally, I don't have a problem with that. The duplex that was put there has allowed to families to live in large residences, where one family could live in a smallish residence before the scrape. It took place on property that didn't belong to me. This is where we should be putting more people, in neighborhoods that have seen a decline in school aged children, in neighborhoods that already have infrastructure in place to support residents, in neighborhoods close to workplaces with good access to clean, safe bus lines. It is better to have infill development in my urban neighborhood, than to cause sprawl to extend even further into the area surrounding the city. If some of the change can include commercial uses or multi-family uses, so much the better. Yes, businesses should provide their own parking where most of their customers and employees are likely to come by car, and yes, buildings should be built in accordance with sound building codes. But, ultimately, I think that zoning regulations (except to the extent that they directly address and are narrowly tailored to specific externalities caused by a property) are a bad idea. I also don't fear having a few more establishments that serve alcohol in the neighborhood. I fear the mediocracy that comes from giving people who minimal interests in a project a potential veto over it and stifles bold ideas, far more than I fear the risk that an occasional bold idea, taken by someone who bears the financial risk involved in implementing that idea, might go bust.
If I thought I could make a difference in the WWPNA, I might show up to meetings, run for an office on its board, and try to change it from within. But, realistically, given the self-perpetuating reputation it has taken on for itself, it would take a large movement of people working together to achieve that, and I don't have the inclination to make that kind of effort, and don't want to help an organization that works against polices that I favor in the meantime. So, instead, I am not a member, and would be happy if the organization simply folded. But, I simply make public comment from time to time on isolated issues where I feel I can make a difference and I care. Given the opportunity, however, I'd like to see the zoning codes changed to reduce the influence that groups like the WWPNA have in the infill, renovation and development process.