LAST YEAR, the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development took a new approach to helping local residents figure out how to improve their neighborhoods. It invited several community groups from across the country to meet with District residents and explain the kinds of things they were doing to improve their own communities. The visitors discussed a variety of successful activities that had not required large amounts of money -- mini-bus service for handicapped persons, training in housing renovation for school drop-outs, and the like. Moreover, they gave invaluable advice about the mistakes they had made and the lessons they had learned. Afterwards, local groups from almost every part of town sat down with their neighbors and came up with some specific things they wanted to do. And just the other day, city officials selected 19 groups to receive funds to manage some innovative activities in the city.

By early summer, a great deal of activity should begin throughout the city as a result. For instance, teenage residents of public housing who are interested in attending college will be tutored, tested and counseled by College Here We Come, Inc. The H Street Business Association will begin to renovate small shops in the northeast section of the city. A "how-to" guidebook on neighborhood research and historic preservation will be published by Don't Tear It Down, and their workshops will explain how city laws effect neighborhood preservation. The 14th Street Project Area Committee (PAC) will provide tenant-counseling for families moving into newly constructed apartments in the 14th Street NW area. City officials intend to give these neighborhoods a special boost, too: paving over some vacant city-owned lots to use for parking, for example, and increasing street-light repairs. What's more, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development, several city agencies will work right along with the groups, so that there are as few mishaps as possible.

These programs still must be approved by the Advisory Neighborhood Councils and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, though that should only take a short while. In the meantime, the groups will be meeting with community residents to discuss their ideas, and with local officials to iron out any bureaucratic snarls. Although it may be some time before anything much can be said about the activities themselves, we think that both the city's Housing and Community Development office and the selected groups deserve some support. This public-private effort is exactly the type of neighborliness that residents have been asking for. We hope it works.