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Example 1: How Neighborhoods Promote Neighborhood Action and Improve Neighborhood Life

Most of these examples come from the writer's direct experience, and some may be slightly out of the ordinary. They are given in short form and in no particular order; hundreds, and probably thousands, more examples could be compiled. But could some of these examples be adapted and refined to promote neighborhood action where you live? And can you think of some other examples of your own?

  • Block parade. Some years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, kids on the block dressed up with Statue of Liberty headdresses. The parade started at the top of the block: the little kids sat in red wagons; the big kids pulled them; the adults stood on the sidewalk and cheered. After the parade, there was a block barbecue.
  • Block photograph. As part of a neighborhood slide show (later shown both at professional conferences and a local arts festival), the photographer dropped off flyers on the block announcing a block photograph to be taken the next day. ("Meet by the big tree in the middle of the block.") At the appointed time, the photographer was the only person there; but very gradually, doors started to open, people peered out, and then edged onto the street. A few minutes later, neighbors started to fetch other neighbors who hadn't yet shown. A few minutes after that, with almost everyone there, the block photograph was taken; the photographer made sure everyone got a copy.
  • The neighborhood bulletin board. One neighbor took it upon himself to post a different saying on the bulletin board every day for six months. He kept track of how many responses he got, both to his own saying and also new sayings. The longer this exercise continued, the more responses occurred.
  • Neighborhood poems. Another neighbor wrote poetry and posted multiple copies of his most recent work on the bulletin board. Neighbors were encouraged to take a copy and post some poetry of their own.
  • The neighborhood hunt. This event was well publicized by telephone pole flyers and by attractive brochures delivered door-to-door. The hunt itself involved walking through the neighborhood, stopping at designated locations, looking for clues, and writing down answers. There was an optional $5 entry fee, and the person with the most correct answers won a $100 prize. It was fun to watch families roaming the neighborhood checking for clues, and sharpening their awareness too; the hunt also netted a profit for the Neighborhood Newsletter.
  • The Neighborhood Newsletter. This newsletter comes out several times a year, written by neighbors and distributed door-to-door by a network of volunteer distributors to 1300 homes. No money is charged; no subscriptions are offered, no ads are taken. Instead, neighbors are asked to make a donation if they are so inclined. During seven years of operation, there's always been money in the bank.
  • The Spooky Walk. At Halloween, parents decorate the perimeter of the pond with spider webs, witches' costumes, and scary jack-o'-lanterns. Ghostly sounds come from the trees and bushes. At dark, the little kids get a chance to go on the Spooky Walk, with their parents close by or not, depending on their level of fearlessness.
  • Music in the park. There's a lot of musical talent in our neighborhood; the trick is finding it, and encouraging people to come out and play. But at a recent neighborhood picnic, there were two live neighborhood bands.
  • Neighborhood autographs. At another picnic, neighbors were asked to collect autographs of other neighbors there. The instructions said (for example): "Find someone who has lived in the neighborhood for at least 30 years; someone who played high school basketball; someone who has been to China; someone who is pregnant (or thinking about it)." The first person to fill their autograph card won a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant.
  • Friends of the Park. The park is the centerpiece of one neighborhood, and neighbors have formed a Friends group to supplement the town's sometimes-erratic maintenance. Members of the Friends can sometimes be seen watering the grass and plants, on their own time, with their own extension hoses.
  • Neighborhood list-serv. Anyone can get on the neighborhood list-serv, which is also publicized in the Neighborhood Newsletter. Announcements go out from time to time. Once, when a neighbor's house was struck by fire, the news went out immediately on the list-serv; donations started to pour in within hours.
  • Citywide Neighborhood Council. In one small city, a dozen neighborhood groups organized themselves into a Citywide Neighborhood Council. They join forces to lobby for better neighborhood services, better police protection, and better enforcement of health and zoning regulations; but they also support and learn from one another. A recent pledge walk netted a few thousand dollars per neighborhood. Local politicians might secretly wish the CNC would go away; but publicly they are obliged to respond when it speaks up.
  • An Office of Neighborhood Affairs. Many municipal governments now have them, for neighborhoods are where much of the local action takes place. Local government offices can coordinate much neighborhood activity, help in the exchange of information, and offer moral, technical, and sometimes financial support. Portland (Oregon) and Seattle have two of the best.
  • Neighborhood-police relations. In an effort to build stronger relations between neighborhood kids and the police, the police invited the kids down to the precinct one day a week after school. The kids got tours, refreshments, and mini-lectures; but they also got a trading card, one card per week, with a photo of a police officer on front and a message from that officer on the back. When a kid had collected the whole set of cards, he or she could redeem them for a bicycle, thanks to donations from local merchants.
  • Neighborhood-college relations. Local colleges can work to improve their relationships not only with their communities, but with neighborhoods more directly. One state university has given course reductions to some of its professors who have worked with local neighborhood leaders to strengthen neighborhood groups.
  • Block nurse. One neighborhood has organized itself so that there is a health care provider on every block, who can and does serve as first call for most routine health questions and needs.
  • Treasure chest. Suppose you had some items that you hardly ever used: cross-country skis, an extension ladder, a pasta machine. You could keep hold of them but also let others use them, by putting them in a neighborhood "treasure chest." All you would need to do is to announce their availability to a Treasure Chest coordinator, who'd handle the publicity. Then if someone wanted what you had, they could arrange to borrow it. (This is an easy-to-run version of barter or skills exchanges.)
  • Neighborhood gardens. A homeowner on a quiet residential street turned her own yard into a neighborhood vegetable garden. Much of the produce was donated to the local storefront food cooperative, which sold it back to neighbors nearly at cost.
  • Yard sales. Why have one yard sale when you can have 20? Neighbors along one street came together to hold sidewalk sales outside their houses on the same day, making for small profits, but also greater connectedness among both sellers and buyers.
  • Leadership training
  • A neighborhood with many new immigrants developed a leadership training program for them. Since at least eight different neighborhood languages were spoken, the training was held in eight languages at once, with members of each language group sitting at separate tables, and one bilingual member at each table translating.
  • One neighborhood training model provides cash incentives. A small group of neighbors signs up for six sessions of training and attends the training as a group. When the training is completed, the neighbors receive a small stipend (about $500) to carry out a pre-approved neighborhood project of their choice.
  • "If these houses could talk..." One neighborhood used neighborhood memories as the basis for a theatrical production. Visitors walked through neighborhood streets at dusk. On many of the porches were older neighbors, in spotlights, who told stories about the neighborhood and about their lives to younger neighbors who had never heard them before.

Example 2: A Cincinnati, Ohio neighborhood

"Mohawk-Brighton was divided into thirty-one blocks, each with approximately 500 people. The [coordinating organization] then contacted known supporters in each block area and asked them to initiate a block council. Each block council then elected a block worker to represent and serve them...

The first project, a child health care center, succeeded remarkably. The nursing staff and block workers made some 5,388 visits to 576 babies, of whom over two thirds received full medical examinations... In response to the demand for increased services, the [organization] was sponsoring prenatal care, medical examinations for preschool children, bedside nursing, supervision of local tubercular cases, epidemic disease prevention, and postnatal examinations. In two short years, the Cincinnati Social Unit Organization had established one of the most comprehensive, effective, and cooperative public health programs in the nation."

This took place in 1919. Can you imagine what might be possible today?

Example 3: Building a Better Future for Liberty City

Carrfour Supportive Housing is expanding efforts to redevelop the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami. Together with its partners, Carrfour is revitalizating one of the largest public housing developments in Miami-Dade County with high-quality, mixed-income housing, creating a cradle-to-college education pipeline, and increasing opportunities for health and physical activity in the neighborhood.

For more than two decades, Carrfour has developed affordable housing with a comprehensive array of on-site services for low-income individuals and families across the Miami region. Through Partners in Progress, Carrfour is bringing together local government leaders, residents, business owners, housing developers, and community organizations to redevelop the Liberty City neighborhood and improve the health care and education in the community. Carrfour is engaging community members in each step of the revitalization process and working with them to address pressing community challenges.

Resources

(Source: Robert Fisher, Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985, pp. 24-25.)