How to be an urban change agent – Favorite guides of Shareable readers

in community stories

by Kelly McCartney, reposted from How to Be an Urban Change Agent, Shareable Style, published 05.18.11 by Shareable

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The John Lennon tribute in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields. Credit: Kerry Kehoe.

There’s a movement – or two, or many – under foot. It goes by myriad names and comes in an array colors. The common thread, though, involves citizens stepping up to better their surroundings, to create safer, more livable, and more environmentally sound urban environments. According to the folks at Pattern Cities, some popular monikers include “guerilla urbanism,” “pop-up urbanism,” “new urbanism,” “changescaping,” or “D.I.Y. urbanism.” They, however, prefer the “tactical urbanism” approach which is defined with five specific criteria:

  • A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
  • The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges;
  • Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
  • Low-risks, with a possibly a high reward; and
  • The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits, and their constituents.

Such a strategy employs an incremental approach in order to test real-world solutions to real-world problems in the urban environment. Like any good incubator project, small-scale experimentation demands fewer resources, be they time, funds, or man hours. The hope here is that positive results are scalable. The definition of true tactical urbanism hinges on the institutional involvement and long-term vision.

In contrast, so-called D.I.Y. or guerilla urbanism affects temporary change in a more localized setting and is instigated from the bottom up without, necessarily, an eye toward the bigger picture. These actions amount to social interventions in the name of bettering a community or furthering a cause.

In a shareable world, there is room for both of these divergent, albeit similar, strategies, and everything in between. Indeed, intiatives from many camps are proving successful in cities around the world. Here at Shareable, we’ve written numerous guides for shaping your urban environment and community. Below are our readers’ favorite ideas.

How to Be an Urban Change Agent

A good first step to begin your urban experiments is to start a neighborhood work group to get your community’s support, input, and resources from which to draw. After that, the sky is really the limit for what a group of committed people can do.


Recommended resources, 2010-0829

in community stories

Recently added to our list of Resources for neighborhood-based community building:

  • Coalition for Community Schools – Resources Housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership, CCS is an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community development, and family support.
  • Printable Outreach Resources for Inclusion Online Links to all of the print materials we are generating in our Inclusive Social Media effort promoting neighbor Issues Forum for all.
  • Harlem Children’s Zone – Publications Newsletters, white papers & poems from Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone Project – a unique, holistic approach to rebuilding a community so that its children can stay on track through college and go on to the job market.
  • National Gang Center The latest research about gangs; descriptions of evidence-based, anti-gang programs; links to tools, databases & other resources for developing & implementing effective community-based gang prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies.
  • Promise Neighborhood Institutes Blog An independent, foundation-supported nonprofit resource, offers tools, information, and strategies to assist any community interested in participating in the DOE Promise Neighborhoods program.
  • The Sharehood – Resources You don’t need to start a community garden or use our local currency or get an article in your local media to be part of a Sharehood community. We’re just giving you some information on how to do these things in case you want to.

Community roundup: Playgrounds for kids, teens, seniors; welcoming troops and refugees

in community stories

City residents take part in a pilot project to live longer, better lives – Could Albert Lea be a new Blue Zone? For the past 10 months, the southern Minnesota town has tried to adopt the lifestyle habits of such places as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Icaria, Greece, dubbed ‘Blue Zones’ because residents live extraordinarily long and healthy lives. Under something called the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project, sponsored with a $750,00 grant from United Health Foundation, Albert Lea was chosen for a pilot project to see whether a typical small American town could become a Blue Zone, too.

A team effort builds Houghs Neck playground

The Patriot Ledger – With the help of more than 200 volunteers, the 2,500-square-foot playground on Brill Field in Houghs Neck was built in one day – Thursday. Volunteers from the Houghs Neck Community Council, Home Depot and the non-profit organization KaBOOM! worked from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., creating a garden and and a fenced-in play area and spreading wood chips.

Chat ‘n Chews provide brainstorming sessions for city revitalization group

The Parthenon – Create Huntington, a grassroots organization focusing on the revitalization of the city, relies on the public, not city officials, for ideas on how to make Huntington a better place. The group hosts weekly Chat ‘n Chews, a time for members to gather and discuss potential projects and ideas. “The idea is that anybody can come and bring an idea they’re passionate about and try to get other people to join in with their passion,” said Carter Seaton, Create Huntington volunteer.  Many of the projects Create Huntington has implemented got their start at Chat ‘n Chew sessions. Projects such as the dog park, Trees for Tomorrow and the Adopt-a-Block program were brainstormed in Chat ‘n Chew meetings.

Learning center for refugees opens on Syracuse’s North Side

The Post-Standard – “As soon as we opened the door, we knew it would be like this, based on the research,” Yusef Soule said. He is one of six friends who created the center to serve the neighborhood refugee population. They’ve done it, Soule said, with money from their own pockets, help from their families and nothing but volunteer labor. The majority of the students are refugees from Burma, Iraq and Somalia, but, like the sign on the doors says, all are welcome, he said. The organizers didn’t want to step on toes or duplicate services and researched what the community needed most, he said. “Because we don’t want to hand out, we want to hand up and get them going and giving back to the community,” he said.

Soldiers home from Iraq get big welcome in Irvine - Orange County Register – A support battalion returns to Irvine’s Camp James. Video by Lenin Aviles

Volunteerism is Archambault’s only hobby

South County Independent – The wall beside Marc Archambault’s Wakefield desk tells his life story, even when he doesn’t want to. He’s red in the face, slightly embarrassed. A legion of his friends have nominated him for the South County Independent’s Independent Spirit Award. “Did I apply for this?” he recalled saying when he found out he was one of three people selected. It’s nice, he said, but he does what he does – volunteer, tend to family, work ceaselessly – because that’s where his gladness grows.

School goes beyond sports, music with clubs

The Indianapolis Star – The after-school clubs on Wednesdays at Washington Community School include cooking, fitness and music production. Dancing, swimming or drama on Thursday. Movies, video gaming and jewelry-making on Fridays. During the week, students attend poetry slams, tutoring sessions, discussion groups and personal finance lessons. Every Friday, the Urban Explorers group heads out on field trips. It’s part of a coordinated effort by the school and neighborhood groups to infuse after-school clubs into the school — one the school says pays off in giving kids more connections to school.

More Ways to Make Friends

World of Psychology – Earlier this year, World of Psychology contributor Therese Borchard wrote a popular entry entitled, “10 Ways to Make Friends.” Inspired by her advice and based upon my own experiences throughout life, I present to you another 10 ways to make friends in your life. No matter what method you try, making new friends requires something I can’t give you in this article — courage. It takes courage to go out and actually take a leap of faith by introducing yourself to someone new and taking a chance you may be rejected. That’s why smaller groups are almost always easier — you can figure out who might make a good friend in such group situations.

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United We Serve Brings Catholics and Muslims Together, and other selections

in community stories – This year during Ramadan, right before the start of the United We Serve Interfaith Week of Service, the Interfaith Committee at my church, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Arlington, Virginia, organized an iftar (dinner to break the Ramadan fast) for members of local Muslim communities. More than 60 Catholics and Muslims attended the dinner, a turnout far surpassing our expectations.

The ‘youngest headmaster in the world’

BBC News – Around the world millions of children are not getting a proper education because their families are too poor to afford to send them to school. In India, one schoolboy is trying to change that. In the first report in the BBC’s Hunger to Learn series, Damian Grammaticas meets Babar Ali, whose remarkable education project is transforming the lives of hundreds of poor children. Via Reasons to be Hopeful

Organization shares bounty

Glendale News PressLiana Aghajanian – As cars whizzed by on a crisp, early Sunday morning on Buena Vista Street, Marie Boswell shuffled a ladder and boxes to the backyard of Burbank resident Allison Bluestein before sticking a sign on the front lawn that read “Fruit being picked by Food Forward. This all-volunteer grass-roots organization gleans fruit off trees on properties and donates 100% of the bounty to food pantries in an effort to fight urban hunger, said Boswell, one of the fruit picking coordinators.

Homes repaired, hungry fed at Hope for Gaston community festival

Gaston GazetteCorey Friedman Volunteers spent Saturday painting and installing bathroom fixtures in the teacher’s assistant’s North Morris Street house. Hers was one of 30 homes renovated during Hope for Gaston, a neighborhood block party and outreach festival in Gastonia’s West Highland community. “At first, I wouldn’t let anybody in because I was disappointed I didn’t have the funds to fix it up,” Brooks said. “I was ashamed. Hope for Gaston has saved my house.”


Acclaimed conductor brings music education to neighborhood kids, and other selections

in community stories

Acclaimed conductor brings music education to neighborhood kids

Twin Cities PlanetMckenzie Martin – In 2008, Alsop founded OrchKids, an after-school music education program in low-income neighborhoods throughout the city. Through the program, students learn musicianship with the goal of improving the students’ social, academic and behavioral skills. Last year, 30 students participated in OrchKids, where they received musical theory instruction for the first half of the year, followed by lessons on the instrument of their choice throughout the second half of the program.

Crowd-Sourced Initiatives to Create a More Livable New York City

Inhabitat (blog)Olivia Chen When NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg launched the Big Apps competition this past June, he invited individuals and groups to program applications that make government data sets accessible to the public — solidifying that technology can contribute to improved quality of life. Applications created in response to Bloomberg’s decisions will join the crowd-sourced initiatives that offer residents not only information, but a place to gain a sense of community, to exchange ideas and to visualize space digitally.

Building a House and Community Ties With Habitat for Humanity

CBS MoneyWatch.comKathy Kristof – Prior to Habitat’s arrival, Tutwiler was best known for the brutal 1950s murder of Emmett Till, a black youth who had the nerve to talk to a white woman. Now, thanks to the donation of several acres of land and the time of hundreds of volunteers, it’s a place where the privileged and impoverished work side by side to construct a neat community of homes within walking distance of a medical clinic and recreation center run by a group of Catholic nuns.

Tradition in large helpings at suppers

BurlingtonFreePress.comGlenn Russell – “What can be better than sharing a meal with your neighbors?” asked Paulsen. “I find it a great example of what community is all about.” Communities big and small across Chittenden County and beyond will follow Richmond’s lead this weekend by hosting their own chicken pie suppers. The dinners are organized as fundraisers by churches to generate extra income and to support a variety of grass-root projects, nonprofit causes and scholarships.

Photo Gallery: Falmouth event raises funds to help prevent homelessness

Falmouth BulletinSarah Murphy – A sea of people in turquoise T- shirts departed from the village green in Falmouth for an afternoon walk. But it wasn’t just any Sunday stroll. The group was participating in the 24th annual Cape Walk to End Homelessness to benefit the Housing Assistance Corporation. HAC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the housing needs of all Cape Codders. It operates homeless shelters for adults and families, administers rental subsidies, offers education and training, and develops new housing affordable housing.

Initiative to transform public housing project deemed success

Knoxville News SentinelMike Blackerby – The revitalization continues, but Knoxville officials and neighborhood residents deemed the HOPE VI initiative – which transformed the old barrack-style College Homes public housing project into the thriving and vibrant Mechanicsville Commons – a success during a Monday celebration at Danny Mayfield Park. Nance said the project is doing exactly what it was intended to do: enhancing neighborhood pride through home ownership, reducing crime, improving schools through better family engagement, attracting businesses and creating jobs.

Neighborhood Watch Programs Safer Than Before

Loudoun ConnectionMartin Casey – In the original Neighborhood Watch programs, volunteer residents took turns cruising the neighborhood in their cars, or even on foot. Volunteers literally stood watch to help keep their neighbors safe. But today, Dep. James Spurlock says, “I don’t want any of you out on the street, possibly putting yourselves in harm’s way. I want you in your homes, but keenly alert to any suspicious activities.”

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