The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods

in community engagement, community stories, Free Libraries Online

Recommended resource: GOOD Issue 19, The Neighborhoods Issue. GOOD started planning the issue back in January, inviting its readers to help plan and produce it. The printed magazine went out to subscribers this month, and pieces are being published online in daily increments. Dozens of good articles in the issue (here’s the rss feed), but in keeping with the Our Blocks focus on getting practical information into the hands of people who want to make a difference in their neghborhhoods, these are articles I like the best:

The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods: A Neighborhood Manifesto. Closer to a Table of Contents than the Communist Manifesto, lists 12 articles from the issue that provide readers “with the tools you need to make your neighborhood more than just the place you live. What all these tips have in common is the fact that they connect you to the actual human beings who live around you—and make your neighborhood better as a result.”

Start a Community Garden. Tips from Marvin Yee, the community garden program manager for San Francisco: Find a plot of land; Secure some seed money; Put together a dedicated team; Draw up your proposal and begin talking to your neighbors; Contact your parks and recreation department with your proposal. For more information check out the American Community Gardening Association.

Throw a Block Party. Tips from Jon Lawrence, who puts on an annual block party for up to 300 people in Bloomington, Indiana: Form a planning committee and pick a date and location; Make sure it’s legal; Promote the hell out of it; Work out your budget; Decide on food; Plan entertainment and activities; Enlist volunteers; Wrap it up. More on block parties from Our Blocks here.

Meet Your Neighbors Without Seeming like a Crazy Person. Tips from Kit Hodge, founder of the Neighbors Project. Say “Hi”; Spruce up your outdoor space, and spend time there; Practice common courtesies; Hang out in your neighborhood, and shop locally; Get involved with your neighborhood in a formalized way. More crazy things you can do with the neighbors here, here, and here.

Share Your Yard (or Get Your Neighbors to Share Theirs). More space, lower bills, and enough pooled cash to install that solar-powered hot tub—there are a lot of practical reasons to share yards with your neighbors. As with any kind of sharing, however, it’s best not to go into the situation willy-nilly. Here’s how: Identify what you want; Approach your neighbors; Plan for a social space; Make an agreement.

Join a New-and-Improved Commune. Tips from Stephanie Smith of WeCommune and Alex Marshall of Brooklyn Cohousing: Decide on your community’s values early on; Keep lines of communication open; Trust the power of consensus; Enjoy the economic benefits of communal living; Learn from the success stories; Don’t think being in a community is the same as being friends.

Create a Neighborhood Clubhouse. Artists/Professors Ted Purves and Susanne Cockrell of fieldfaring ran, among other things, Oakland’s Temescal Amity Works and the Reading Room – a store that sold nothing. Their tips: Pick your vibe; Have a purpose; Make it inviting; Have a bathroom people can use; Tap other people’s talents.

Get on Community Access Television. Pepper public access television with shows by people with useful skills they can share with their neighbors. Here’s how: Figure out who runs the stations in your area; Respect the station’s ethos; Have a good idea; Get organized; Find someone who actually knows how to use a camera; Spread the word; Make a good show.

All images by Trevor Burks:

From Everyday Democracy: The basics of dialogue to change

in community engagement, community stories, Free Libraries Online

A national leader in the field of civic participation and community change, Everyday Democracy helps people of different backgrounds and views talk and work together to solve problems and create communities that work for everyone. Using innovative, participatory approaches, Everyday Democracy works with neighborhoods, cities and towns, regions, and states. It also runs the The Issue Guide Exchange, a free, online resource available to anyone who is interested in broad-based, inclusive dialogue leading to community action, where people share, create, and discuss dialogue materials.

Its online handbook, The Basics of Dialogue to Change, which is adapted from its 157-page guide Organizing Community-wide Dialogue for Action and Change (available in pdf for free), covers these topics:

Community Development Research at IssueLab

in community engagement, community stories, Free Libraries Online

IssueLab archives, distributes, and promotes the research produced by nonprofits. It archives hard-to-find research from small community-based organizations as well as large think tanks. Here are some research papers in its Community Development selection.

Demonstrating Our Values, Impact and Effectiveness: Final Report of the NeighborWorks Community Organizing Pilot Program. Contributing Organization(s): Neighborworks America

Intersection: Taking it to the Street. Contributing Organization(s): The McKnight Foundation

Resident Involvement in Community Change: The Experiences of Two Initiatives. Contributing Organization(s): Public/Private Ventures

Resident Participation: A Community-Building Strategy in Low-Income Neighborhoods. Contributing Organization(s): Neighborworks America

The Best of Both: Community Colleges and Community-Based Organizations Partner to Better Serve Low-Income Workers and Employers. Contributing Organization(s): Public/Private Ventures

Free Resources Recommended by the Community Development Exchange

in community engagement, community stories, Free Libraries Online

Excerpted from the Community Development section of CDX’s 74-page Resource Briefing, to include only those publications that are available online for free. The Community Development Exchange is a membership-led organization which aims to bring about social justice and equality by using and promoting the values and approaches of community development. More free publications from CDX here.

2003 Home Office Citizenship Survey: People, Families and Communities

Home Office Research, Development & Statistics Directorate (December 2004)


A Beginner’s Guide to Sustainable Communities

Improvement & Development Agency (July 2005)

This article examines the concept of the ‘sustainable community’, and asks how much of the debate is about hot air, and how much is about clean air and considers how much is about building civic empires rather than green environments?


Building Community Cohesion into Area Based Initiatives: A guide for residents and practitioners

Neighbourhood Renewal Unit (2004)

This guide is for residents, community representatives and practitioners who are delivering regeneration programmes at the local level, in Area Based Initiatives (ABIs) and other regeneration areas.


CHOICE: Examples of Community Participation Methods in Europe

Paul Henderson (April 2003)

This publication from the Combined European Bureau for Social Development (CEBSD), explores how and why tools and techniques for participation seem to have become part of a common European culture. There is a powerful note of caution on how “they can be counter-productive to the very processes of empowerment and learning that are at the heart of community development”.



bassac (2005)

Communities is essential reading for anyone with a stake in creating positive social change in the UK. The publication unveils what, to date, has been the largely invisible impact of bassac members and other community-based organisations.


Community Engagement How To Guide

The Scottish Centre for Regeneration offer a useful online guide to those involved in community work.


Facilitating Community Involvement: Practical Guidance for Practitioners and Policy Makers

Christine Sylvest Larsen (October 2004)

This paper provides practical guidance for practitioners and policy makers on how to get the community involved. It draws on the review ‘What works in community involvement in Area Based Initiatives (ABIs)’, which was commissioned by the Home Office to evaluate the impact of community involvement in ABIs.


Inside Out: Rethinking Inclusive Communities

Tom Bentley, Helen McCarthy, Melissa Mean (February 2003)

This report from think-tank Demos suggests that community-based organisations could be damaged by attempts to co-opt them as instruments of government policy.


National Occupational Standards in Community Development Work

(October 2002)

The standards provide a tool for promoting and practising good quality community development learning and practice.


What Community Development Does. A short guide for decision makers to how it achieves results.

IACD Global

A guide from the International Association for Community Development (IACD).


What in the world…? Global lessons, inspirations and experiences in community development

(January 2007)

International Association of Community Development collected case studies and information on community development, to promote learning and exchange of experiences.


11 Drivers of Community Attachment – Ranked. Findings from “Soul of the Community”, a Gallup/Knight study

in community engagement, community stories, Free Libraries Online

The goal of the Knight Foundation-Gallup Soul of the Community project is to explore how community qualities influence residents’ feelings about where they live, and how those perceptions relate to local economic growth and vitality.

Gallup interviewed a group of randomly selected adults age 18 or older, currently residing in each of the 26 Knight Foundation Communities. Interviews took place from February 17th through April 26, 2009. The interview was approximately 18 minutes long and covered 86 questions. The sample for each community was a representative selection of residential household telephone numbers in the defined area. Once a household within the identified area was reached, Gallup randomly selected one adult within the sampled household. Each county within a community was sampled proportionally to the adult population in each area. About 400 citizen interviews were completed in most of the Knight communities – 28,000 nationwide, over the past two years.

CA Map

Main findings

Overall, 24% of citizens are attached to the community in which they live; 40% are not attached.

Gallup identified two key components of Community Attachment (CA):

  1. Attitudinal Loyalty, describes citizens’ general satisfaction with place, their likelihood to recommend it to others, and their outlook for their community’s future.
    1. 60% of respondents were satisfied with their community (25% highly satisfied)
    2. 57% were like to recommend it to others (30% very likely)
    3. 44% had a positive outlook for their community (17% very positive)
  2. Passion, captures the connection to place and the pride taken in living there.
    1. 66% of respondents are proud to live in their community (38% very proud)
    2. 57% believe their community is perfect for them (29% feel this strongly)

Gallup also identified five key dimensions (domains) of community, and a citizen’s connection to it, which drive overall CA. These five domains describe perceptions of:

  1. the basic structural, economic, and leadership offerings of the community (what the community gives or offers its residents),
  2. perceptions of the community’s openness to different groups (what the community stands for in diversity),
  3. citizen involvement in the community (what citizens give back to the community),
  4. the people connections they have to that community (how citizens belong to the community), and
  5. citizen’s personal state of well being (how the person feels and copes in the environment).

CA ModelCommunities which are strong on all five domains (and thus have high overall attachment) have the greatest opportunity to attract and retain the most desirable citizens for driving economic and social success. Each Domain has a different level of impact on CA. These domains were further broken out into eleven aspects, which affected a resident’s attachment to the community. Together, these domains explain about 40% of the overall variance in CA (based on logistic regression). So if we can move (i.e. improve) these 11 aspects (and more specifically the ones with the highest influence) we should be able to move CA.

In descending order:

  1. Openness – Perceptions of openness of the community to different groups (older people, racial and ethnic minorities, families with kids, gays and lesbians, talented college graduates, immigrants)
  2. Social Offerings – Vibrant night life; good place to meet people; other people care about each other
  3. Aesthetics – Parks, playgrounds, and trails; beauty or physical setting
  4. Education – Quality of public schools (K-12), colleges, and universities
  5. Basic Services – Highways and freeway system, availability of quality healthcare, availability of affordable housing
  6. Leadership – Community leaders represent residents’ interests; leadership of elected city officials
  7. Economy – Economic conditions & prospects, job opportunities, income
  8. Emotional Wellness – The personal well being of citizens (respect, rest, stress, learning)
  9. Safety – Level of community crime; safe to walk within 1 mile of home
  10. Social Capital – The people-connections citizens have to the community and how they share time with others (belong to formal/informal groups/clubs; spend time with neighbors; close friends in community; family in community)
  11. Civic Involvement – What residents give to the community in terms of civic involvement (volunteer; voted in local election; attend local community meetings; work with residents to make change)

Key Attachment Drivers

Learn more: 2009 – Full Report(PDF), 2009 – Presentation(PPT), 2009 – Data (ZIP, DOC, POR – asks for email)

Compassion, Altruism, and Do-Gooding – from the Greater Good Science Center

in community engagement, community stories, Free Libraries Online

The Greater Good Science Center is an interdisciplinary research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior. While serving the traditional tasks of a UC Berkeley research center—fostering groundbreaking scientific discoveries—the GGSC is unique in its commitment to helping people apply scientific research to their lives.

The Compassionate Instinct – Think humans are born selfish? Dacher Keltner reveals the compassionate side to human nature.

Humans are selfish. It’s so easy to say. The same goes for so many assertions that follow. Greed is good. Altruism is an illusion. Cooperation is for suckers. Competition is natural, war inevitable. The bad in human nature is stronger than the good. These kinds of claims reflect age-old assumptions about emotion. For millennia, we have regarded the emotions as the fount of irrationality, baseness, and sin. The idea of the seven deadly sins takes our destructive passions for granted. Plato compared the human soul to a chariot: the intellect is the driver and the emotions are the horses. Life is a continual struggle to keep the emotions under control.

Even compassion, the concern we feel for another being’s welfare, has been treated with downright derision. Kant saw it as a weak and misguided sentiment: “Such benevolence is called soft-heartedness and should not occur at all among human beings,” he said of compassion. Many question whether true compassion exists at all—or whether it is inherently motivated by self-interest.

Recent studies of compassion argue persuasively for a different take on human nature, one that rejects the preeminence of self-interest. These studies support a view of the emotions as rational, functional, and adaptive— a view which has its origins in Darwin’s Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Compassion and benevolence, this research suggests, are an evolved part of human nature, rooted in our brain and biology, and ready to be cultivated for the greater good.

Global Compassion – A conversation between the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman

Emotions unite and divide the worlds, both personal and global, in which we live, motivating the best and the worst of our actions. Without emotions there would be no heroism, empathy, or compassion, but neither would there be cruelty, selfishness, nor spite.

Bringing different perspectives to bear—Eastern and Western, spiritual and scientific, Buddhist and psychological—the Dalai Lama and I came together in conversation and sought to clarify these contradictions, in hopes of illuminating paths to a balanced emotional life and a feeling of compassion that can reach across the globe.

Better Than Sex (and Appropriate for Kids)

By Christine Carter. Might be that sitting with your legs crossed repeating stuff like “May all beings be free from suffering,” is a little too far-out for you. I’m a scientist for crying out loud, so you can imagine how I might feel meditating while surrounded by prominent neuroscientists, which I recently did on a 7-day silent meditation retreat. Except that I actually didn’t feel silly. Why? Because there is new scientific research that demonstrates the incredible power of loving-kindness meditation: No need to be self-conscious when this stuff might be more effective than Prozac. Also called metta, loving-kindness meditation is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people.

Compassion across Cubicles – A new research movement tries to help everyone who tunes out their emotions when they punch in to work.

Five-foot tall panels divide the physician’s billing department into a maze of cubicles at Foote Hospital in Jackson, Michigan. Each cubi¬cle contains one of the 39 employees who make up the billing office staff. Most of the employees are women, many are single mothers, and they spend each day on the phone trying to collect unpaid debts owed to the hospital. The work is repetitive and may seem uninspiring. Yet the hosipital staff widely considers this department one of the best places to work at Foote. “Our department is special,” said Susan Boik, head of the billing unit. “People care about each other here.”

The Altruistic Electorate – New research debunks some conventional political wisdom.

By Jason Marsh. A new line of research has challenged some age–old assumptions about why people vote, suggesting that it’s concern for the welfare of others—not narrow self–interest—that sends people to the polls. In one study published earlier this year, Richard Jankowski, a professor of political science at the State University of New York, Fredonia, found that altruism is the single most important factor in predicting whether someone will vote. Jankowski recorded people’s responses to questions measuring their level of concern for others, and then compared those responses with their voting data from the 1994 general election. He found that if people expressed concern for helping others, they were far more likely to have voted. In fact, a sense of altruism was even more influential than people’s age, income, or education level, generally considered the most important factors for voting.

Connecting through compassion – For three decades Charles Garfield has trained volunteers to care compassionately for strangers. He shares what he’s learned about the extraordinary deeds of ordinary people.

I discovered a lost civilization on the cancer wards of San Francisco’s hospitals, hordes of anxious people facing a limited life span. I wanted to find a way to meet the psychological and social needs of these patients. It was obvious that I couldn’t meet this challenge alone, and many of my colleagues simply didn’t have the time or inclination to help. On a hunch, I turned to volunteers, who I trained in interpersonal and listening skills, and who could continue to provide peer support to patients even after the patients returned home. I soon realized I had a phenomenon on my hands: a cadre of volunteers who could respond to the human elements of illness and death—the isolation and loneliness that mainstream

Altruism in Space - What does the science-fiction series Battlestar Galactica teach us about human nature?

In the 1970s, anthropologist Robert Trivers proposed the theory of reciprocal altruism, which argues that organisms provide a benefit to others only in expectation of future reward. But Trivers’ influential theory has some holes. It doesn’t necessarily explain why someone would sacrifice her life for another, nor does it cover anonymous acts of charity. These behaviors offer a more benevolent picture of human nature, challenging the inherent selfishness presumed by Trivers’ tit-for-tat theory of altruism. So which is the more accurate depiction of altruism— and, by extension, of human nature?

Compassion & Empathy (from GoodWiki, GGSC’s user-editable website – think Wikipedia for the greater good)

Definitions and Overview – Based originally on text by Jennifer Goetz (UCB) – The construct of compassion is not clearly defined in psychological literature. Our first step was to form a working definition that would allow us to explore related constructs. We define compassion as a feeling of sorrow or concern for another person’s suffering or need accompanied by a subsequent desire to alleviate the suffering. This phrasing focuses on compassion as an emotion: a short-lived feeling that anyone may experience. We expect, however, that there are specific conditions in which people will be more likely to feel compassion, that there are differences in individual propensities to feel compassion, and that many people and cultures may view compassion as a basic human value.

More on Compassion and Altruism from the Greater Good Science Center

The Art of Community

in community engagement, community stories, Free Libraries Online

Excerpts from Chapter 1 of The Art of Community, by Jono Bacon. Note from the author: When I started work on The Art of Community I was really keen that it should be a body of work that all communities have access to. My passion behind the book was to provide a solid guide to building, energizing and enabling pro-active, productive and enjoyable communities. I wanted to write a book that covered the major areas of community leadership, distilling a set of best practices and experiences, and illustrated by countless stories, anecdotes and tales.

But to give this book real value, I was keen to ensure the book could be freely accessed and shared. I wanted to not only break down the financial barrier to the information, but also enable communities to share it to have the content be as useful as possible in the scenarios, opportunities and problems that face them. To make this happen O’Reilly needed to be on board to allow the book to be freely copied and shared, in an era in which these very freedoms threaten the publishing world.

But they came through. Thanks to the incredible support of Andy Oram, my founding editor for the book, O’Reilly were hugely supportive of the project and our desire to break down these barriers.

Today I am pleased to announce the general availability of The Art Of Community under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

Main points

A sense of belonging is what keeps people in communities. This belonging is the goal of community building. The hallmark of a strong community is when its members feel that they belong.

Belonging is our goal. It is that nine-letter word that you should write out in large letters and stick on your office wall. It is that word that should be at the forefront of your inspiration behind building strong community. If there is no belonging, there is no community.

Belonging is the measure of a strong social economy. This economy’s currency is not the money that you find in your wallet or down the back of your couch, but is social capital.

The first known use of the term “social capital” (referred to in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community [Simon & Schuster]) was by L. J. Hanifan, a school supervisor in rural Virginia. Hanifan described social capital as “those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit….”

For an economy and community to be successful, the participants need to believe in it. If no one believes in the community that brings them together, it fails.

For an economy to work, every participant needs to believe in the economy. Belief is a critical component in how any group of people or animals functions. This can be belief in God, belief in values, or belief in a new future. Whatever the core belief is, the economy and the community can be successful only if everyone has faith in it.

Like any other economy, a social economy is a collection of processes that describe how something works and is shared between those who participate.

An economy is a set of shared concepts and processes that grow and change in an effort to generate a form of capital. In a financial economy, participants put goods and services on the market to generate financial capital. The processes and techniques they use include measuring sales, strategic marketing, enabling ease of access, and so forth. A social economy is the same thing—but we are the product, and the capital is respect and trust. The processes and techniques here are different—open communications mediums, easy access to tools, etc.—but the basic principles are the same.

These processes, and the generation of social capital, which in turn generates belonging, needs to be effectively communicated.

An economy is like a flowing river: it never stops, and the flow is critical to its success. Economies never stand still. Every day they change, adjusting to stimuli in the world that affects them. At the heart of how this movement works is communication.

The Basis of Communication

Peter Block, a consultant on learning, makes an important foundational observation about communication in a social economy: “community is fundamentally an interdependent human system given form by the conversation it holds with itself.” When I first heard that quote, I realized that the mechanism behind communication in a community is stories.

Stories are a medium in which we keep the river flowing. They are the vessels in which we not only express ideas (“I was taking the subway to work one day, and I saw this lady on there reading the paper, and it made me think xyz”), but also how we learn from past experiences (“There was one time when I saw David do xyz and I knew I had to adjust how I myself handle those situations in the future”). Furthermore, when the characters in the stories are people in a community, the stories are self-referencing and give the community a sense of reporting. Communities really feel like communities when there is a news wire, be it formalized or through the grapevine.

Not all stories are cut from the same cloth, though. Communities tend to exchange two very different kinds of story: tales and fables.

Tales are told for entertainment value and to share experiences. They are individual units of experience that are shared between people, and their primary value is in communicating a given person’s experience and adding to the listener’s repertoire of stories and experiences.

Fables are different. Fables are stories designed to illustrate an underlying message. The vast majority of us are exposed to fables as children, and these stories are passed down from generation to generation, each one extolling a moral message to the youth of the day.

To be continued.

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Join the Art of Community Comedy Photo Competiton

This book is free, but you should buy it if you could. From the author: While the book is ready to download right now, the book is available to buy in print, on Kindle, and other electronic book formats and I would like to encourage you to buy a printed copy of the book for a few reasons: Firstly, buying a copy sends a tremendous message to O’Reilly that they should continue to publish books (a) about community and (b) under a Creative Commons license. Secondly, it will encourage O’Reilly to invest in a second edition of the book down the line, which will in turn mean that communities around the world will have a refreshed and updated edition that is available to them. Thirdly, aside from the voting-with-your-feet side of things, it is just a really nice book to own in print. It is really well made, looks stunning and feels great to curl up with in a coffee shop or on the couch.

More from The Art of Community