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Sunday, October 6, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
How to's for life
A monthly guide

Follow-up :: Oct. 21, 2002
Neighbors share ideas on getting together

By Jack Broom, Seattle Times staff reporter

Illustration IS YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD a collection of needs, or a collection of assets? Chances are, it's both ... one of those half-empty-half-full situations. Experts say focusing on the good aspects and good people is a big step toward defining the strengths of a neighborhood, and drawing it closer together. The result? It's better equipped to tackle the inevitable problems. Benefits can be as simple as making a friend, as elaborate as setting up a neighborhood emergency plan and as unexpected as finding someone who can teach you how to play the violin or barbecue the perfect salmon filet.

SAFE AND SECURE — WATCHING THE BLOCK. Ages ago, when humans decided to live near one another, safety was a prime motivator. But today, proximity and anonymity blend into a brew that may not make us feel safe. Start with the basics: Meet your neighbors. Keep your porch lights on at night, and keep tools and ladders locked up. For help putting together a Block Watch, tap your local police department. Most have helpful instructions or will send someone out to a block meeting. And some can send you data on crime patterns in your neighborhood.
Darryl Smith
Darryl Smith

"We got people together and fed everybody pancakes. ... We had put the flier out in five or six languages. It's an ongoing challenge to be inclusive and to make connections, but the rewards can be huge."

"Everybody feels like they've got a stake. Everyone feels like, 'It's my ' hood, too."

Smith is past president of the Columbia City Revitalization Committee.
HINTS — EASY FIRST STEPS. You don't need to start with a million-dollar budget, a paid staff and your own neighborhood Web page. You could try some of these today:

• Sit on your stoop.
• Leave the house.
• Look up when you're walking.
• Help a lost dog.
• Garden together.
• Pick up litter.
• Dance in the street.
• Talk to the mail carrier.
• Help carry something heavy.
• Organize a block party.
• Bake extra and share.
• Ask for help when you need it.
— From Syracuse Cultural Workers

MAGAZINE WAGON — USE YOUR IMAGINATION. One Seattle neighborhood used a $250 "Small Sparks" grant to purchase a wagon to wheel around the neighborhood, recycling magazines and handing out information on upcoming community events. Another invited artists from the neighborhood to show off their work at a local P-Patch. And another, seeking ways to boost the connection between generations, set up monthly meetings for people to bring ideas and suggestions. Each of these was more than just an end in itself, but another building block toward a greater sense of community.
Kelly Carter Mortimer
Kelly Carter Mortimer

"When you plan something for kids, don't forget to get kids into the planning process."

"Investing time can decrease the negative things where you live — crime, isolation and fear, and help increase the positive things — trust, joy and staying in touch."

Mortimer is community-development director of Lutheran Community Services Northwest,
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD — AN INSTANT CONNECTION: Whether it's swapping plates of cookies over the fence or organizing a block-sized potluck supper, sharing food means forming bonds. Tasting dishes from other regions and cultures can help create connections in a diverse neighborhood. You might:

Illustration • Assemble a cookbook of favorite neighborhood recipes.
• Find people willing to teach their particular culinary skill or style.
• Host a bake sale to fund a neighborhood project.
• Swap notes on the neighborhood berry vines, markets or specialty food shops.
One caution: If you opt for a block-wide meal, get others active in the planning and preparation. "If I do all the work," said one expert. "It's my party, not the neighborhood's."

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS — DOOR TO DOOR: Organize a group to conduct an "inventory" of the skills your neighbors have and may be willing to share. Among other things, a report from the survey could let people know who:

• Has emergency medical training.
• Can type.
• Fixes leaky faucets.
• Does hair styling.
• Repairs cars.
• Has artistic talent.
• Likes to bake.
• Could drive senior citizens to doctor's appointments.
• Plays the guitar.
• Enjoys preparing food for large groups.
Ed Medeiros
Ed Medeiros

"My favorite way to bring people together to work on something. When you work together, you meet on a different plane."

"Having a conversation with a neighbor is easier than most people think. All you have to do is to get him to talk about himself and the conversation carries on on its own."

"People say, 'I don't have time to talk to the neighbors.' Maybe we should be saying, 'How can I make time to build community? Our lives, our world, would be enriched."

Medeiros is executive director of the Phinney Neighborhood Association,
WHO ARE YOU? — A SNAPSHOT: Start by getting a sense of who shares your little corner of the planet. Is the neighborhood exploding with kids or swimming in seniors? What's the racial mix? Do people own or rent? To find out about your census block (about 10-12 city blocks), see and click on "Your neighborhood."

WORK WORKS — TO CONNECT PEOPLE: Imagine "Survivor" without the bug-eating. Effort, cooperation, sweat and a shared sense of success bring people together for more than chat. Make and install storm windows for the infirm. Paint the house of an elderly or low-income couple. Replant the traffic circle. Have a progressive leaf-raking party to put fun in a boring task. Or get a group together to rent a rototiller or thatcher, doing several yards to split the expense.

GET HELP — IT'S OUT THERE: Local governments, churches, business associations and existing community groups can all help. Check out your City Hall's Web site for ideas, resources and ways to land cash for a neighborhood project.

Seattle: In a city boasting some 100 neighborhoods, community-building is a big deal. See for 11 programs and zero in on "Neighborhood Matching Funds" to find out about grants to help set your idea in motion. 206-684-0464.

Bellevue: Start at and click on "High-quality neighborhoods." Links point to how to get a neighborhood association started, how to find matching funds for projects and how to deal constructively with those pesky urban realities of noisy neighbors, barking dogs and landlord/tenant disputes. 425-452-6836.

Everett: From, go to drop-down box marked "City Services" and click on "Neighborhoods" for a description of the office's services and links to 19 Everett neighborhood associations.

Useful tool: "Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets" by John P. Kretzmann and John McKnight.

TALK TO US — WHAT WORKED FOR YOU? Tell us the most creative or effective idea you've seen for drawing neighbors together, and we'll publish some of the replies. E-mail or write to Talk To Us, P.O. Box 1845, Seattle, 98111. Please include your name and a daytime phone number for verification.

Illustrations by Michelle Kumata, Seattle Times staff artist

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