CREATE COMMUNITY IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
By Jack Broom, Seattle Times staff reporter
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.
Sit on your stoop.
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.
Assemble a cookbook of favorite neighborhood recipes.
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.
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 www.cityofseattle.net/Neighborhoods 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 www.ci.bellevue.wa.us 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 www.everettwa.org, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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