6 Ways You Can Build a Better Neighborhood This Summer
Historically, the United States has always had a strong sense of community. Everyone knows instinctively that a strong neighborhood means a better peace of mind for all who live there. Good communities foster a sense of belonging, togetherness, and safety. Decades ago, city layouts accommodated neighbors and their children playing together with parks and schools within walking distance of their homes.
Today, long stretches of strip malls and other commercial districts separate neighborhoods to encourage spending. Relying on local government to strengthen the community often takes years, if any progress is to be made. What do you do when your neighborhood is at the mercy of its original planning? How do you foster togetherness and safety?
1. Create a community book library. There are a lot of ways to improve your community, and sometimes it is just a matter of spreading around resources. There are likely many avid book collectors sitting on a pile of unused texts, and many more people ready to read something new. Public libraries are important, but a communal library is far more personal.
There are a number of ways to go about it, too. An architect named John Locke converted old pay phones into free lending terminals. Others rent out public space and fill it with shelves. You could convert a shed or garage in a rural community. Neighborhood libraries are catalysts for conversation, trust, and respect.
2. Organize an Emergency Network. Do you have a med kit and relief plan for your family in case disaster strikes? What about your community? An emergency response team put together by neighbors can be handy in any number of surprising situations:
- Power Outages
The best way to begin is to create a meeting place in the event something happens. You can set up plans for everyone to follow in the event of specific disasters. Having the support of your friends and neighbors will make big events much more manageable with the extra support.
3. Placemaking. One of the most powerful ways to make a difference is to set in motion a placemaking campaign. This is a movement where its community members reinvent their public space in a way that is appealing to them. It is a short-term collaborative effort with a long-term goal: to maximize the shared experience of any given neighborhood.
Placemaking is a three-step process:
- People get together and share ideas for things they think would make the community better.
- These ideas are put into a plan of improvable aspects for the community. These are specific objectives that can be easily met, yet they would strengthen everyone’s standard of living.
- Implement the plan.
A great example of Placemaking in practice took place in Dallas, Texas. A man named Jason Roberts grew tired of the stringent zoning laws that removed all the character from his suburb called Oak Cliff. This small town charged citizens for anything extra put outside their homes. Useful and beautiful things like awnings, flower planters, and a child’s lemonade stand could incur stiff fines up to $1,000.
In early 2010, Roberts organized a few dozen people from his community and together they mapped out changes in Oak Cliff they felt made sense. Roberts’ neighbors chalked off bike lanes on busy streets, set up makeshift cafes, and hung flowers and artwork where they could. After everything was set up, those involved invited the Oak Cliff City Council to a neighborhood party. Since then, Oak Cliff saw massive changes in its zoning laws.
4. Invest Together. With everyone pitching in, neighborhoods can improve a great deal. If everyone puts in a few dollars, you can invest in simple changes that will likely improve your home’s value and those of your neighbors:
- Trees. Intersections, tree lawns, and street corners are excellent places for some cover.
- Paint. Repainting crosswalks, playground equipment, and more can provide for a new look.
- Solar Panels. Many people across the country began pooling money to buy panels for the bulk discounts.
5. Set Up a Watchdog Network. Theft can be ruinous for some families, especially when recovering items of major sentimental value. You can head off the fear and pains of break-ins by organizing a neighborhood watch group. Neighborhoods with strong watchdogs quickly gain a reputation in your community. It will also put your mind at ease knowing more than one set of eyes is watching your doors and windows while you’re away.
6. Strengthen Communications. The benefits to better communication are many. Maybe you want to plan a garage sale and see if someone else is interested. Perhaps the annual block party is coming up. There are dozens of ways to increase communication among neighbors:
- Social media accounts
- Neighborhood-specific hashtags
- A free-for-use forum or internet message board
- A community newsletter
- Email blasts, and more