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If you could ask one question to all of your neighbors, what would you ask?

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Candy Chang

Candy is a public installation artist, designer, and urban planner who likes to make cities more comfortable for people. She's passionate about redefining the ways we use public space to share information that can improve our neighborhoods and our personal well-being. See more of her at http://candychang.com and http://civiccenter.cc.

This conversation will open at 3pm EST on Monday, August 1, 2011.

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    Jul 29 2011: One I've been asking myself a lot recently...

    Do you actually care about the lack of community in suburban living. Would you actually get involved if there was a sense of community OR are you actually just happy travelling around doing the things you want, with the friends you choose (who are spread all over the city and beyond) and so do not have time or interest for a local community life as well?

    I know what I want the answer to this question to be, and I think most people would ideally agree, but in reality I think most people would fall into the latter. The question is whether that is the natural way or one that it can be re-learnt.
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      Aug 1 2011: Hey Lance - Great question. I think people living in both the city and suburbs definitely get more and more social support from people in places far and wide. I know I do. But there are still great benefits to community ties, depending on how invested you are in your place. Some people are and some people simply aren't.

      For the people who are... Who knows a neighborhood better, a place better, than the people who live and work there. We know the details that will help make it more complete, more comfortable, more ours. We know where the public transportation stop should go. We know what businesses our neighborhood needs. We know what needs fixing. And we need better tools to easily share these ideas in a way that's constructive, that will make a difference. What ways can we share info to self-organize and become effective agents in our communities?
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        Aug 1 2011: more effective agents? here is an example we tried.

        to learn self-organizing we organize music events or joint painting. in this play group someone emerges as the leader - and he is the perfect agent later on; or the perfect admin in a social network for the community. we call this method "creative quarter".
        it needs improve but it works well.
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        Aug 1 2011: you pointed it out - un-forceful.
        we think about motivation and incentives when starting community work. al have to want to be a community - by what topic ever. then we go about the difficult pain-staking duties....
        here is a blog on a creative quarter in dortmund: http://bit.ly/nzjMBR
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    Aug 1 2011: A great conversation topic... Mine would be:
    Why do you never smile back when I smile at you in the stairway?
    Would you have wanted me to knock on your door when I first moved in and introduce myself?
    Why do you not bother to get to know me at all?
    Do you even know I have been living in this house for almost one year?
    Do you know the other neighbors better than you know me?
    Does my nationality bother you, do you have the wrong idea about what kind of person I am?
    What would you say if I asked for help, what would you be willing to give?
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    Aug 1 2011: So I ask this question out of personal curiosity, and I've been entertained and enlightened by the range of responses on Facebook over the weekend https://www.facebook.com/TED/posts/175621919171732 . Just starting to parse through some of the responses. All the examples below are real ones from the FB thread...

    There are the common challenges of living so close together, like uninvited nudity, noise, and dog poo (one of my favorites from the thread: "Why don't you wear pants when you water your yard?")

    But we have all probably bugged someone else without knowing it. The drama could be alleviated if we just knew.
    (Is there anything I do that bugs you? Can you guys hear us doing it? Why do you hate me?).

    There are ways to make our neighborhood better that we can only do together.
    (Would you please turn your porch lights on at night?... one small step to make our street brighter and safer. Would you like to join me in throwing a neighborhood block party? I'd like to shout and announce in the street the night before we need to move our cars across the street, so we don't all get parking tickets once a month when we forget. Would this annoy you?)

    There are a lot of pros of sharing local info and resources.
    (What's ur password for the wifi? Do you need eggs? Do I have anything you can use? Do you have something I can use? May I use your backyard for a vegetable garden? If you say yes. I will give you 25%, I'll keep 25%, and donate 50% to the food bank. Where can we start a community garden?)

    There are the practical things we can learn from each other
    (Which supermarket do you prefer? Do you know how to make compost? How in God's name did you get that giant furniture up the stairwell? And can you show me how?)

    And there are emotional things too. Our neighbors are people too :)
    (Why do you live here? What are you passionate about? What do you want out of life? How can I help? Are you happy? What rocks your world? Are you ok? Come over for tea some time!!
    • Aug 1 2011: After reading the Facebook replies, I realized that what I imagine is what I would ask my neighbors if I knew that they would trust me enough to answer from the heart, not what would I ask if all my neighbors were at a party and I had the floor. to ask a public question. In a sense, I am thinking about what Parker Palmer calls "the shy soul" and what it takes for that part of a person to feel safe enough to speak. . . and then, what would I ask in that context?
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        Aug 1 2011: Hi Christina - That's a wonderful observation and I like that phrase, "the shy soul". It's something I've just begun to think about with public art experiments. Anonymity and personal space are interesting benefits to interactive platforms in public space. You can share with your community but on your own time and without the pressure of the crowd or judgment. I don't think you'd see the same responses on the Before I Die wall (http://beforeidie.cc) if it was done face-to-face in a community meeting. The wall gives you the space you need to be private, solitary, and thoughtful. It brings out an honesty amongst people in public space that makes me wonder how much we could share and learn from each other if given the opportunity... Thanks for sharing, your comment will simmer with me for a long while!
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    Aug 2 2011: Candy,

    I'd ask them if they'd join me for a glass of wine or tea and share something about their core being. Meaning the person behind their closed doors, their car, their clothes, so to speak. Perhaps even "their story" if they're willing to share it.

    My goal would be to learn about their internal character, the one behind their externally expressed characteristics. And make an authentic connection around what we both care about which might be used as scaffolding for future conversations.

    A wonderful question, and wonderful to hear of your passion for public spaces.

    Andrea
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      Aug 2 2011: Signora Andrea, of course this conversation is wonderfull because its about human feelings, simple feelings, not theories or political or economic affairs. Simple things for wonderfull life. The cultural distance give us different choices to see hoe we can go to the neighbor. (il prossimo, el projimo, il proximo). The real thing is the deep meaning of the approach. Its a form for radical humanism: love others as love yourself. Dont you believe?
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        Aug 2 2011: Yes, Luigi,

        I agree with you. I think of it as seeking the "hidden humanity" in others. In this process there is an exchange wherein each person's "hidden humanity" can reflect and absorb. So when I see another's "hidden humanity" I see more of my own. My belief is this is best achieved in personal relationships where mutual presence is the primary agenda.

        Andrea
  • Aug 1 2011: I posted it on Facebook before I read all the other comments and now I have a slightly different question: First my original "If there's one thing I can do to make your day better, what would it be?"

    After reading all those Facebook comments I think a better question would be "If there's one thing I can do to make your day better (besides getting rid of all your neighbors that complain about you), what would it be?"
  • Aug 4 2011: In 30 plus years of work as a mental health clinician and community leader the aggregate of my experiences has led me to several observations/conclusions about "community", particularly within the context of middle, upper-middle class America. The first is that that long-standing dominance of white male privilege has been the prominent force in the growing disconnections between members of our communities. There are a variety of data that point to higher levels of community experience among people of color and between women. Second, in this context insidious, internalized oppressions now degrade individual and community life within all cultural groups and in particular, our nations youth, including white youth. Changing conversations from emphases on laziness and intelligence levels to forces/habits of oppression will create opportunities for people to feel valid amongst each other across all differences. Third, as we have engaged the dramatic sift from dependence on each other to dependence on technologies, we have raised the "bar" as regards the matrices of self-sufficiency: what one has and what one can do for oneself have become extreme. Finally, within the digital universe there is growing evidence that despite ourselves we need and seek each other. Recent, brilliant presentations on TED provide illustrations of the power of this need, not only in its reach but in its potential for collaborative good. Regrettably, it may take a social-economic meltdown of sorts, seemingly assured by the impotency of modern political systems, to awaken people in their individual and collective fear to the deep resource of community- of each other.
  • Aug 2 2011: Okay this might not be the answer you want but you did ask for it....
    I would ask "Do you know any twenty somethings available for a blind date?"
    Yes i know, it is crude but i am a single guy and that is the first question that pops into mind.

    Right now my neighbors are strangers. How do you approach strangers and inquire about their family without getting stared at. Meeting in bars, clubs and churches might be a good way. Except i'm not into religion, clubbing and drinking.

    A communal space for cooking, eating, exercising and entertainment would be a nice place to start. Cities are too isolationist. You are in the midst of millions of people most of which you fear are out to exploit you in one way or another.
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    Aug 2 2011: What are you expert at ? So that we know where you can help us & vice verssa..
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    Aug 2 2011: We have to remember that the approach with others are no the same in different cultures. The classic scene from films when the neighbor goes to ask for a cup of sugar is just an american use, more a film example than a reality. Here in Italy we used the streets, not the homes. The home space is sacred and not ready for goodwill visitors. We prefer to be in the plaza or the restaurant, a neutral space than in our own homes. I never lived in other part, except in Mexico and the uses there are more or less the same than here. When you can traspass the main door then you are accepted as a neighbor, not before. We dont ask anything we prefer to see in silence and collect some information from the friends. The friendship is also a different feel here than other parts.
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    Aug 1 2011: All of you are my ciberneighbors then I asked....Do you want to ride a bike. We start the WBW (World Bike Web). Here in Rome theres a lot of people riding a bike....so you want to join us?.
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    Aug 1 2011: In remote places, and when visiting friends in suburbs, I've often been tempted to go door to door and ask, "Do you long for connection, but don't know what to do? Do you yearn for others you resonate with but fear it'll take too much energy and time to seek it?"

    People are so often isolated, and I often wonder if they've simply adapted to it, or the solitude is something they genuinely desire. I, rather, think they are simply fearful of taking steps to connect. Connection is so life affirming, yet sometimes so difficult to achieve.
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      Aug 4 2011: Hey Linda - Good subject and if you haven't yet, you should watch James Kunstler's highly entertaining TED talk on suburbia http://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia.html. Obviously I agree there are tons of benefits to local connections and I am a high-density kind of girl, but just to play out the other side... This makes me think about my parents, who live in the middle of nowhere. After many debates I realized they simply value peace and quiet over everything else right now. They have lots of friends around town but their home is a place for solitude. We want different things from our home life. Some people want to be pillars of their community. Some people want their personal time. And some people want something in between (like me). But in all cases, how can we still facilitate the platforms to share practical information at the local level? This is helpful even if you want to hole up!
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      Aug 4 2011: I personally believe that our capitalistic culture is far too individualistic. We are taught from an early age that each one of us are supposed to live in our own house and have our own property, separate from everyone else. Even today I feel very awkward when going near someone else's home, as though I am invading their property, even though in my mind I find such concept completely absurd. This materialistic consumption-based culture is designed to maximize both our division and our consumption.

      Having said that, I often watch my kids in our communal backyard, which we share with our neighbors... they often play with each others' toys and go in their friends homes. They don't believe in "property". Natives also never believed in "property". I also recently talked with a fellow from Africa and he told me that in his hometown, he can walk to anyone's house and go in, because everyone is a friend.
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    Aug 1 2011: We decided to keep this conversation opened for 2 days so we can discuss at a gentler pace ha. Thanks again for joining the conversation! Lots to simmer on.
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      Aug 1 2011: Wow! Probably not the question I would ask my neighbours, but your "Before I die..." wall is a fabulous idea!
      It's these kinds of projects that kindle hope in our future and bring a smile to anyone's face, no matter how bad their day or week or month was.

      With some friends I did something similar as a final project for an English course I took - we went around with a camera asking students where they would like to wake up if they could choose any random place. The project is based on the http://fiftypeopleonequestion.com/ project, going around in major cities and asking people questions like this or what do you wish to happen until the day is over. You notice that some people give pretty shallow and expectable answers (same with you wall too), but I am most amazed by those who are honest and give really deep and moving answers.

      Perhaps a video booth where people can answer this question in private as a next project?

      Keep up the great work and looking forward to those do-it-yourself instructions for the wall.
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    Aug 1 2011: What is the one goal you would be willing to collaborate with your neighbours for?
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      Aug 1 2011: Adital if you were my neighbor the first thing that I asked you is: Would you like to go to expresso coffee and a nice dinner?
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    Aug 1 2011: Oh man I'm like a live-chatting turtle! Sorry I'm so slow, I have yet to even read all the responses. Thanks so much for chiming in! I really appreciate it. A lot of great questions and ideas. You've given me a lot to think about and I will continue to go through the thread at my turtle pace.
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      Aug 1 2011: You should probably extend the time limit to a day or three ;)
      You don't need to respond directly, instead, think a bit about your responses and let others do the same... Forcing conversations with these narrow time limits is rarely good... Wouldn't you want to read all of it, check some facts and then respond?
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    Aug 1 2011: Candy, please join us on conversations more frequently with even more questions, I think you'll enjoy it!
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      Aug 1 2011: a foto in maastricht with my family. why do you ask ?
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          Aug 1 2011: oh yes - it is a great city and such an international flair in such an old town. amazing contrasts..50% of the students are from abroad. please go there!
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    Aug 1 2011: I would ask them: Is there something you think I have that I could share with on occasion? If so, what is it and how would access to it be helpful to you?
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    Aug 1 2011: A great topic is music - which music do you and your family like?

    it is emotional and has great depth to reach out to other person, to open this person - which naturally is closed on first contact.... isn´t this the drama? all are neighboors, but at first everybody is closed emotionally...
  • Aug 1 2011: What's one crazy, odd thing that makes you happy?
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    Aug 1 2011: ‎'Can I borrow your lawn mower (again)?'. Is it just me that talks to my neighbours? We had a power cut last night and I went next door to see if they had it too, then straight to other side to make sure the old lady there has candles/a torch. I don't hesitate, but then I guess I live in the North of England, it's hard to stop us all talking at the best of times!
  • Aug 1 2011: I would ask them: Who are you? Let them talk about themself. I think there are crazy unbelievable stories hidden among many neighborhoods. You could find out so much with such a simple question. The answer would depend on the person, how does every single individual interpret a question like that? How would you? You could find stories about what they are doing, how they got there or what they're dreams are. Is there a singer working like a bouncer, a single mom who got here after ending a career as a busdriver. Who knows? Not me, so let's find out!
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    Aug 1 2011: One question to my neighbors. I know that questions can be used as a way to get power, but they can also come from a deeply curious place. A place of seeing someone without judgement. I'm not so sure the question is as important as the place from which its asked. So that's my question to my self......How can I engage right now from a place of curiosity? Forget about time and .....yes.....listen to the answer without knowing what to say.
  • Aug 1 2011: What would you be willing to sacrifice for more green space in our area?
  • Aug 1 2011: My question would have something to do with private property in a neighborhood that is becoming more and more populated by older, very wealthy people in what was once farming country;for example: Does having nicely manicured personal property satisfy you as much as common space and contact with others might? How might our lives be different if people lived closer together and had large tracts of public land in our midst?
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    Aug 1 2011: Trying to suppress my initial choice of "How do you manage to put up with all the noise?", although this would be interesting to know.

    Since as a student I'm mostly surrounded by other students as neighbours I'd probably ask a simple: "Hi, where are you from?" I don't really know of all them well and there are quite a plenty living around, so it would definitely be interesting to get to know them better.
  • Aug 4 2011: If you weren't concerned (or, should it be consumed) with the fear of scarcity what would you generously offer everyone you came into contact with? Follow up question: Is your fear of scarcity truly real or is it perceived?
  • Aug 4 2011: Have you seen the trees are starting to bud?

    BTW: I would feel very uncomfortable if my neighbours started asking about my biggest dream, or inquiring after my core being, so I would never start with a question like that.
    This despite being from a country that seems to be famous for its directness or rudeness.
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    Aug 4 2011: What do you think / feel about the way we are living in this neighbourhood ?
    That will be my only question as then only can generate enough information and learn more about what needed to be changed...........
  • Aug 4 2011: I would like to ask or suggest we re-think the use of fences. What are we trying to keep out or in?
    Fences... defining spaces between us. I've seen it on roof tops too which is completely ludicrous. My brother reacted to this and asked hypothetically, would I be comfortable with my neighbor's massive dog play with my 2yr old? Most likely not. However, I can't help think how wonderful it would be to add our backyards together as a central space, communal gardens and bigger spaces for the children to roam freely. It's pretty simple really.
  • Aug 4 2011: Could you please just ignore my presence altogether? I would ask them that, I dread the thought of trying to awkwardly be too worried about how I'm supposed to be looking at their eyes so that it might appear I'm a good listener and respectful but really I'm too concentrated on doing that so I really dont know what their saying and lose my train of thought as well my social presence must remain in constant war of trying to be normal while not looking anxious and giving off signs that I dont want to be there even though I really dont want to be there but I dont want it to look like I dont want to there and seriously I'd rather just be alone in my room in complete isolation.
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    Aug 3 2011: What was your biggest dream growing up?
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    Aug 3 2011: "Good fences make good nieghbors." - Robert Frost
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    Aug 3 2011: If i could ask one thing to my neighbor or to everyone for that matter it should be: "isn't life amazing? An astounding existence?" If anything else is a great ice breaker even if one does not agree, has i've found in a research project that i'm envolved. Its related to the process of meaning making, meaning search and the subsequent meanings hierarchy that is envolved in the process, so, Social Psychology. But i Made the experiment in my community, outside the research realm and works very well, i believe because its invitation to reflexion and even abstract thinking wich can be a very close, intimate, experience. And after all, isn't it an astounding existence?
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    Aug 2 2011: Candys passion of "redefining the ways we use public space" is also at the heart of urban change from the industrial to the digital society. If it is Detroit, Bilbao, Milano, Lyon, Liverpool, Nantes or the Ruhr Region - all share that with the end of an industry the future of their city was at stake: public space collapsed.
    To start re-generation very often public installation art is happening - yes, just happening because artist use the empty space. no permission needed for lost spaces in cities...

    Last year however during the European Culture Capital in Ruhr this was the official strategy: Installation Art as the (artistic, social and economic) avantgarde for urban change. One art project is just stunning - the re-vitalization of a river, from dirt to living / housing at the water front for 10 Bill. Euros was led by EMSCHER.ART: About 10 art installation a long the river to integrate the so-long industrial river back in the social map of the inhabitants. Several Millions were invested in these art projects with famous and non-famous artist and we did over english subtitled 50 films about the process over the last 2 years: http://bit.ly/ljGAex

    Candys talk and question about art and public space is for us at the very centre of our future. culture gives incentives business can not. One realizes this when business is really really bad and public space collapses - unfortunately it is a price to learn. I hope other cities learn quicker then we did.
  • Aug 2 2011: My children ask "Would you like some lemonade?" Our neighbors are closer than they would otherwise be without the occasional lemonade stand.
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    Aug 2 2011: Sweet Candy, knowing more about our neighbors and caring for them even only in small ways, I believe, will bring more collaborative effort for the community.

    This human principle always bother me:

    "Your neighbors don't care how much you know until they know how much you care"

    Great calling Candy!
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    Aug 2 2011: I guess, I would ask " Can I help you?" when I see them struggling with something.
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    Aug 2 2011: I would ask if I could do one good thing for them today to make life a little better. Is there something I can do to make your day better Candy Chang?
    Blessings to you
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    Aug 2 2011: "How are you ?"

    I think what's important is not what to ask, but what you should do after you ask.
    Too many people think greeting and questioning are two different thing.
    They demand answer when they ask question, but when they greet they don't wait for an answer.
    Connection is interactive
    Connection is acknowledgement
    Connection is validating
    Connection is accepting
    Connection
    is a smile and a gaze.
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    Aug 2 2011: I ask questions that seem relevant to the other person's interests. I live in an isolated area and have made it a habit whenever I am out the past few years to strike up a conversation with whomever is nearby if we are together for more than a few seconds. This includes standing in lines, looking at items in stores, waiting rooms, elevators (when traveling - there are none around here). I find most people are receptive to this and I have had quite a few very interesting conversations. I walked into a silent waiting room when my daughter was having oral surgery, asked one question and the conversation was still going on when I returned after her surgery. I believe it is our nature to connect and rarely (I can't remember when) have found people to be offended by a friendly interesting remark. It just takes a bit of practice and a few moments of careful observation to find that first question or comment. It is easier when there is something interesting to look at.
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    Aug 2 2011: Great thread. One thing that fascinates me in this discussion about community connectedness is the role media/technology plays in contributing to 'empathy fatigue'. We are connected to so many more people today that it becomes psychologically fraught to continually extend our empathy to those beyond the social/familial tribes our human minds were designed to love and care for. I'm exploring this notion in a participatory arts project called Walk the Talk where I invite people to a public park in Melbourne (AUS) and ask them to pair up with a stranger and go on an en mass self-directed stroll for an hour. We'll see how it goes! P http://www.pozible.com/index.php/archive/index/1191/description/0/0
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      Aug 2 2011: Hey Peter - That's a good point and good luck with your project. It's great to explore ways we can be more selective in the connections that are meaningful to us. In New Orleans some people talk about "planning fatigue." After Katrina, a lot of people went to a lot of community meetings, but many times they never saw any noticeable outcomes. People only have so much time and energy to give. How can we weed out the noise and get real things done around the issues we care about?

      We each have our niche interests. How do you better connect the person who wants fresh produce with the local food co-op trying to get off the ground? How do you connect the person who wants more trees with the local green organization? How do you connect the person who wants to open a coffee shop with the local process on how to start a business? Our neighbors are great sources of information for these things - if we could easily reach out to them...
  • Aug 1 2011: I was asked to comment on my response to your question: What would you ask your neighbors? I said,"Where does your hope spring from? And what have you done for someone else without thought of personal gain?" I want to know my neighbors better, understand where they are coming from, and also just do personal research on where people are at in these days and times. There is so much division, conflict, misunderstanding throughout the world, why build on it with hostility and defensiveness? I am always curious about people's deeper motivations, what makes them tick. I feel that to heal the ills of this world, we as humans are called on to do two things: listen to the natural world and what it is telling us (through our dreams as well as facts) and to grow our own compassionate natures. I want to start with my own community and build from there. I have asked my friends on Facebook about their altruism, but hardly one could respond. Everyone is so wrapped up in me, mine, what can I get, that true giving without thought of recompense has all but disappeared in our culture. It is frankly shocking in a culture that is so rich in material wealth as well as basic necessities. Our soul wealth seems bankrupt. Also, to have better neighbors I must be a better neighbor. When I show that I truly care about another person, they are more apt to listen and share. Seems pretty basic to me.
  • Aug 1 2011: I'm sure my neighbor was wondering what I was doing outside at 1am in my pajama's last night....the answer.....taking the dog to go potty. You couldn't see my dog because he was walking through our plants. He's 12 years old and elderly so he can't go out back because of the stairs. My neighbors are mostly quiet and friendly. But we do have a rental behind us. We hardly ever see or hear them but they built what looks like an outdoor living room complete with refrigerator and couch and not enough cover to keep the elements out. But yet, every big game or race day, they are out there and they always pop off a few fireworks when their team wins. It's funny and yet.....why didn't they just do that with their living room since they never seem to be in it? It's the one room in the house we can see and we never see them in it. And yet at the same time, to each their own and everything for a reason.
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    Aug 1 2011: I would ask my neighbors how we can together find small but meaningful ways to enhance our "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam" (I can't get Sabin's profile quote of Carl Sagan's out of my head!!) with beauty, charm and meaning. Little things that together make a big difference in how we live our lives together - not in isolation.
  • Aug 1 2011: Dear Candy,

    If there were no psychological issues: honestly, what is your contribution to a better world?
    In reality; many people will suspect complications behind this -

    So I reduce the complexity, asking the following:
    "If there is one thing in the world you can change to make the world better, what would it be?"

    Thank You!
  • Aug 1 2011: My art & design collective, Works Progress (http://www.worksprogress.org/) has spent the last 2 years asking our neighbors in Minneapolis & St.Paul two very simple questions: What do you know? What do you want to know?

    To us, these questions seemed like the basis for building relationships that could help to regenerate our cities.

    We designed a new community event called Give & Take around these two questions, giving neighbors an opportunity to meet one another in a safe social space, building community around personal assets and knowledge. It's been incredible! We are now working to expand the program outside of the metropolitan Twin Cities, and are interested in developing a DIY Give & Take "kit" for neighborhoods & communities. Here's a couple of links! Would love to share what we've learned with others!

    Give & Take: http://www.give-take.org/
    Video Intro: http://vimeo.com/26980158

    Also: Candy, we so admire your work, Thank You!
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      Aug 1 2011: Hurrah for another exciting project! :D
      I am really interested in the relationship between the whole web 2.0 thing (by that I mean social networking, using websites to encourage interactions, etc) and physical communities. On the one hand it seems that I have better and more frequent comtact with people in other countries than I do my own neighbours, and I can't help wonder if such sites are contributing to this... On the other hand it seems like it could be such an invaluable tool for engaging people in the first instance who would never normally be interested in arts/community practices. How can we get people to get out from behind their PCs and meet up in the real world?
      • Aug 1 2011: We had the same question when we started the Give & Take event I linked to above! Social networking sites and blog platforms made it possible, as artists and designers and engaged citizens, to expand our network of peers and to have really generative conversations about practice, but when it came to connecting in our own neighborhoods, and generating the same kind of energy, it was a whole lot harder. Either the on ramps are not there, or the community infrastructures are outdated.

        Think about it: you pass all kinds of neighbors on the street, in stores, at events -- and if you don't already have a connection, the chances that you will stop to talk with one another are slim. Especially if your perceptions prevent you from seeing beyond what you see, if you think you couldn't possibly even have anything to talk about. I think that's a lot of missed potential there, because many of your neighbors probably have fascinating ideas, skills, or energy to share! And it's likely that if you tried, you'd find something in common.

        It seems as though our silos are getting bigger (more global), but they are still silos. I think there is a way to take what we love about connecting online (surprises! connections! information! Ideas!) and create real world platforms for exchange that are deeply rooted in our communities, but connected to a more global creative renaissance.
      • Aug 1 2011: Oh, and I also think homemade food (and also beer) are both amazing neighbor makers! You can't get that experience online ;)
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          Aug 1 2011: Yes, I thought you might have encountered the same question which is why I raised it... I agree about the beer though - hence the Fancy A Pint? (http://www.glittermouse.co.uk/fancy-a-pint.html) project that I tried to get off the ground and my comments below regarding cake! This conversation has given me the push to revist that project further now though, and I'm currently sat here planning ways to get my neighbours to trust random muffins...
          Another interesting artist network to keep an eye on though - I feel very encouraged that there are so many people working in these areas at the moment!
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        Aug 1 2011: Hi Annabeth - that really is a great question!

        I actually work with Shanai on Give & Take (and a bunch of other projects through http://www.worksprogress.org/), but just wanted to chime in to add that our vision for Give & Take is that it becomes kind of like a community-based TED Talks, not just for change-makers, but for everyday people who have something to share - be it a story, a hobby, a passion or even just an idea. We've started doing these events in different neighborhoods around the Twin Cities and will soon do our first event in rural Minnesota. The idea is that the content generated at the events can be fed back to a main hub online, very much like TED. Videos from the event will be shareable, allowing the live event to be a launching pad for all kinds of new connections happening online.

        Which is all to say: I really believe that we have only just begun to harness social networking online for face-to-face community-building. There is so much potential here, but as Shanai points out, the key is in building real/virtual communities that bridge cultural silos rather than reinforce them.

        People answer our two questions on their name tags when they come to the event: "What do you know?" and "What do you want to know?" (For example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/worksprogress/sets/72157624019736075/) But this isn't just a clever ice-breaker! We've created a whole series of games to play with the audience that are designed to get people making new connections on their own. The 1.5 hour event ends up being a mix of community-sourced presentations (you can sign up on our site: http://www.give-take.org/) and social games that get people talking to each other. Because it's not issue-based, people come from all different walks of life.
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          Aug 1 2011: Hi Colin,
          I like the project and I can see that you have developed a 'face to face' element to it... so share the secret...? ;) How do you get people to turn up? Where do you publicise your website? How do you get people fired up to join in? Maybe that's a question with some really obvious answers but I think it's one of the first stumbling blocks to participative projects and definitely a key area to share good practice around. For myself, so far, I've had the best responses by approaching exisitng community groups. This is important and can be used to forge links between such groups but I am really interested in this mysterious goal of facilitating interactions between strangers... How do *you* do it?
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          Aug 2 2011: Hey Shanai and Colin - Great to check out Works Progress and Give & Take, keep on keeping' on! Good thoughts along with Annabeth on online tools to enhance physical communities. Been thinking about this a lot lately. My colleagues and I are currently launching http://neighborland.org in New Orleans. It takes the I Wish This Was public art project on vacant storefronts (http://iwishthiswas.cc) a few steps further to help people shape future businesses and services in their area. There are pros and cons to both analogue and digital tools and we're still trying to figure out how to rock the best of both and bridge the two.
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        Aug 1 2011: [Annabeth, for some reason I can't reply directly to your last post, so I'll do it here!]

        There is no magic bullet when it comes to community engagement. One thing that helps us is that we've been at it for quite a while. Like any creative practice, you have to actually practice it to get better at it. In this kind of work, the more you practice it, the more people know about it. People have to trust your intentions, so you have to be really good at communicating them to a lot of different kinds of people. It's taken 4+ years, but we now have an network of people interested in our programs that's over 3,000 strong and always growing.

        You're absolutely right that creating authentic partnerships is so so important. As we begin to experiment with our Give & Take program in new neighborhoods and cities around Minnesota, the first thing we do is try to find a partner on the project that is as excited about creating connected communities as we are. It's actually become one of our "simple rules" that we don't do a project if we can't find a community based partner for it.

        One more thing about Give & Take and why I think it's been successful so far: it's an asset-based open platform for people to fill up with all kinds of potential points of connection. You never know what's going to happen, but people always bring their best creative-selves to the night, and it's always an awesome time filled with laughter and humility. Community engagement shouldn't feel like taking your vitamins. It needs to be entertaining, and what better source for entertainment is there than ourselves?

        There's so much more to say, but I'll end with this: You can still be experimental, quirky, and fun - in fact, the world desperately NEEDS "experimental, quirky, and fun" right now - but you have to be able to tell people "This is an experiment! And you know what... it might not work!" If people trust you, they will absolutely join you on the adventure.
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          Aug 2 2011: Thanks for your thoughts Colin, So much here to muse on... Trust. There's a thing.
          Anyway, I will definitely be keeping an eye on your projects, hope it goes from strength to strength!
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          Aug 2 2011: I'm back! I've been thinking about that trust thing again, it reminded me of Jane Jacobs reflections on 'casual public trust' in The Death and Life of Great American Cities; The Failure of Town Planning (1964). If you're not already familiar with that text I would definitely recommend it... It seems to me that opportunities to exercise trust are becoming increasingly eroded. I think that's become a key function that projects such as these can perform; restoring some of that. It's a really important thing to raise and essential for anyone working in this area to be aware of... Anyway. Just thought I'd chuck that back at you :)
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      Aug 1 2011: Shannai extraordinary work I see in your site. The power of community is unavodable when all decided to do something positive. We start the WBW (Worl Bike Web) if you want to share this idea with your associates?

      Ciberbiking is a very strange thing but its possible because e all bike and share the effects in our places. Rome is a very special city to do this but in my little neighborhood some transform slow and positive. The people walk but decided to use the bike for some trips. Im not designer Im researcher in the Vaticasn Archives but our designers friends from Domus and Ferrari start a new design for an urban tricycle.
  • Aug 1 2011: I would ask if their dreams they had when they're young came true. If not, do they regret it? Or has the dream changed? Do they still have dreams? Are they achievable? Are they happy, without having that dream come true?
    One's dreams are wonderful. Everyone is different and so are their dreams.
    Especially all the answers together would be awesome, I imagine. Like you read a book full of hope and differend visions.
  • Aug 1 2011: I would ask.. what are the things that made you face troubles from us..
  • Aug 1 2011: I know most of my neighbours and probably more than 100 people in my neighbourhood. My neighbours are comprised of artists, drycleaners, teachers, electricians, actors, architects, designers, historians, writers, and retirees (to name a few). It is a very unique neighbourhood - like a small town in the middle of the city. It can take an hour to walk three blocks to the store depending on who I run into. So this question is very different for me than most.

    I would ask them why they stick their heads in the sand or complain amongst themselves rather than come to community meetings and discuss and/or support the needs of the neighbourhood. I would ask why they allow bullies to stop them from voicing their own opinions. I would ask why sacrifice our childrens' futures by enabling the same policies that have proven not to work over the last 40 years. I would ask why they can't think outside the box to come up new ideas to fix old issues. Perhaps I would ask too much.
  • Aug 1 2011: Hi Candy !

    I've been asking my neighbors about bras, as part of my "Let's Talk About Bras" project.
    http://www.letstalkaboutbras.com

    I'm finding that by talking casually, exchanging memories/stories, and giving opinions/advice on such a paradoxical subject (bras are both serious and playful...hidden yet in-your-face...etc.), people are really opening up in ways I never would have expected.

    Thanks for existing :) I've been a fan of your projects since GOOD magazine released those "Good Neighbor" tools of yours.
  • Aug 1 2011: Well, i know i live in an area full of snobs. But do i have to submit myself to the fact that you judge me and think of me as some kind of person that i'm not based on miserable and insignificant things i do on my own house? Doctors and advocates...pffffffffff.
  • Aug 1 2011: I don't really like my neighbors. We have absolutely nothing in common.
  • Aug 1 2011: I live in a community with mostly rental housing (mostly small apartment buildings) my question would be how do you get your community involved in our neighborhood when many of our residents consider the area a "temporary" home?
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    Aug 1 2011: Thanks Candy. And please keep up your good work. I'm a fan!
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    Aug 1 2011: Thanks Candy - it was fun and i learned a lot !
    I hope you might enjoy our creative-quarter-idea.
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    Aug 1 2011: I would ask the simplest things: do you have a dentist to share, etc. Each building in NY is a city unto itself. I have lived in mine for 20 years and only know about 2 of my neighbors! We ride in the elevator without speaking. Dialogue of any sort would = change here.
  • Aug 1 2011: Why are you so apathetic about the aesthetics of your community? Appearances matter and you don't get a second chance at making the first impression of your neighborhood.
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    Aug 1 2011: Candy, what are you hoping to achieve with this conversation?
  • Aug 1 2011: How are you spending your time lately?
  • Aug 1 2011: what do you like about our neighborhood...and what would you like to change that would make it better?
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    Aug 1 2011: Do you feel it's easier to engage a community when people seem to innately care about doing so? I tried to do some things in a small town and there was such a sense of curmudgeonliness (that's probably not a word) that it was very hard to make any dents/progress. It was sort of like I was the only one who cared.
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      Aug 1 2011: I agree - the one activist is kind of lonely. so maybe it is time to make friends first, then get active - as a group. of course this take longer; and one must adjust the ideas for improvement. but still it might be worthwhile if more are doing less - than one doing it all ???
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      Aug 1 2011: Hi Anne - I hear you. I have lived in places where community engagement is not the first thing on people's minds. It's definitely easier in areas where people have already organized themselves around community issues and people are already ready to get their hands dirty. But that's also a great challenge! To show the value of coming together, perhaps even for simply practical reasons or common pain points. What things have you tried doing?
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        Aug 1 2011: see below. i was able to successfully complete http://www.mywishforozark.com/ but i tried a lot of other things that were met with resistance. And then my time in that town was done. I do see them making changes though and I feel a little like maybe I helped start the ball rolling.
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          Aug 1 2011: Hi, nice project, well done for getting so many responses! I think the trick is in not underestimating the value of people's time. I have had much better responses to projects where I am literally handing it to people... I think a necessary prioritisation of 'daily life stuff' can be misinterpreted as apathy and it's really important to be able to clearly communicate what you expect the benefit of participation will be to people. But giving things out helps. and everyone likes cake. I think my next project will involve cake. ;)
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          Aug 1 2011: Out of curiosity... If you got left a muffin with an apartment number and an invite for a coffee iced on it or something... Would you eat it...? Or would you mistrust the muffin..?!
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          Aug 1 2011: Hey Anne - What a cool project with so many interesting wishes! Thanks for sharing. And Annabeth brings up a great point about busy lives misinterpreted as apathy. Even if we love our community, we all have things to do. We're busy. Our time and energy are precious. How do we make it REALLY easy for people to participate in ways that are constructive?

          Not everyone wants to be a community leader, but I know a lot of people who'd be happy to give 10 minutes a week or an hour a month (including me). And that would greatly help the passionate people trying to get great things done in their community. How do we easily tap that? Micro-tasks for volunteering?

          And Annabeth - Ha what a great question. The Friendly But Mysterious Muffin Question. I think it depends on how much foot traffic passes by the muffin. In my current living context (very public with lots of drunk passers-by) I would knock on the apt door first and ask them if they left a muffin. If they say yes, then I would happily snarf it down. If I get ill, I know where they live.
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        Aug 1 2011: Annabeth - it was actually literal apathy. Went something like this:

        "My wish for Ozark?...I don't have a wish for ozark, i don't care, ozark never did anythng for me!" and so on. But other did join along.

        To answer your question, I would definitely not trust the muffin.
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          Aug 1 2011: Hmm. Tricky. This muffin idea needs work. Ok. My new mission - fight apathy with muffins! Watch this space! ;)
  • Aug 1 2011: What brought you here?
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    Aug 1 2011: I am organizing what i call an evening "BRING TOGETHER". the friend I invite has the obligation to bring a friend with him to my house, he always wanted to meet but did not have time to do so.

    So at my party 50% knows eachother, the other do not know eachother - though we are all related by only one friend.

    this is great fun - and you meet many new people !
  • Aug 1 2011: Why don't you contribute towards keeping the outside cleaner?
    I like your comment Candy ... Would you please turn your porch lights on at night?... one small step to make our street brighter and safer.
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    Aug 1 2011: Candy you already touched on where I was going .... I would want to know what my neighbors feel is working, and what I could do better (e.g. putting on my pants before watering the garden).

    Another thing I would be interested to know is what my neighbors perceive that we have in common. So I would ask "What do we share"? Responses could range from stuff to values,
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      Aug 2 2011: Hey gurl! Good to hear from you. Ha yes it's interesting to think how much neighbor drama could be resolved if we only knew we were bothering each other before things escalated.

      What a good question. I've never asked my neighbors if there's anything I do that bothers them… I wonder if they would be honest with me or feel the need to be polite. I wonder how their responses would be different face-to-face vs. via an anonymous page on my door. Another FB response favorite - "Does my nudity offend you?"
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        Aug 2 2011: Here is a good one. "What is that smell?"

        The Portland apartment we just rented for 6 months had an extraordinary smell. The stuff we just moved back to Eugene over the weekend smells like this. I wonder if it will go away. I hope so.

        But I really want to know what made the smell. Is it the type of food one or more tenants were cooking? Is it building materials? Mold? A beer making endeavor?

        Maybe the neighbors would know. I want to hear what they think.
  • Aug 1 2011: How can we get to know one another better? Would you like to have some tea/coffe and share how we both came to live in the same neighbourhood?

    I hardly know my neighbours.. I wish I did.. I wish they would open up.. i wish the judgment/fear of judgment would stop.
    • Aug 1 2011: As unusual as it is, I actually know everyone who lives near me, all it takes is a little initiative to go and knock on a door. Bringing a gift is usually a great way to open the door!
  • Aug 1 2011: The question I would ask is, "How can you NOT be informed on the issues & vote?"
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    Aug 1 2011: Are you done with cynicism too and do you long for warmth, brotherhood, sistershood, friendship and love as much as me?
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    Aug 1 2011: I guess I would ask: "What would you like to ask me?"

    Sometimes people feel more comfortable when you open up your heart first and they engage in a conversation more easily.
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    Aug 1 2011: Hi Candy,
    I'm a very frequent TED Conversation participant and I'd like to give you some friendly tips on how to get this conversation going.

    May I purpose that you write your question yourself and not leave it to the Admin team. Also if we want to know your life story we would simply check your profile, you can provide the links there.
    Instead of the current "explanation" try giving a shorter Explanation on your thoughts on the matter and give an example of what you yourself might ask...
    It's quite hard to get people here to initially check the links provided (in the explanation) if they are not already engaged in discussion which they wont be with abundant information...

    Also, even if you're a TED Fellow, an hour is hardly sufficient time to get a TED Conversation going, once again I'm guessing the Admin Team decided this, I purpose 1-3 days to get the most from this.

    It's your profile! Just click the "Edit" button if you find any of my advice helpful...

    On-topic: I would ask if they've heard of TED.
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      Aug 1 2011: Thanks Jimmy, I am obviously green at this. This question did come from me because I have a lot of questions I'd like to ask the people around me. For instance, when I moved to my neighborhood New Orleans, I was surprised that there wasn't a full-service grocery in the area. After chatting with a neighbor here and a neighbor there for a few weeks, the story pieced together - the drama behind the old grocery that has been under law suits since Katrina, the pros and cons of the hybrid party store doubling as a grocery, the new food co-op in the long but promising making. It took a few weeks to really understand the deeper issues and I wish I could have easily asked everyone around. All these fragments of info that would help everyone around, but there's no easy way to share it all. You won't bump into every neighbor and we're all busy. How can we better share it? Could we use our public spaces?
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        Aug 1 2011: Well, truly reaching everyone is a very difficult task, almost impossible I would say... What I'm wondering is what you would do and say to them (your neighbors) if you got all of them in a public space... what are your wishes?
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    Aug 1 2011: I'm curious if anyone has reached out to many people in their area? Flyers? Community meeting? Public installation? Local event? What about and what came of it?
    • Aug 1 2011: Yes, I recentluy hosted a "Delivering Happiness Town Hall Meeting" complete with funny cheap prizes, smiley face cookies, and a brief session of laughter yoga. We discussed things that make us happy, and decided to continue the group meetings every other month. The feedback has been terrific....my hopes for the group are to gather bi-monthly and share opportunities to do good work for the community, in addition to "sharing happiness" of course.
    • Aug 1 2011: I advertise TED and bring it up in conversations frequently, however, most people don't appear to care much. The only time I get decent response to TED talks is when I e-mail a specific link to someone.
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        Aug 1 2011: When I tell from TED in Germany - people are very curious and fascinated - maybe I was lucky so far... smile
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      Aug 1 2011: I am organizing what i call an evening "BRING TOGETHER". the friend I invite has the obligation to bring a friend with him to my house, he always wanted to meet but did not have time to do so. So at my party 50% knows eachother, the other do not know eachother - though we are all related by only one friend.

      this is great fun - and you meet many new people !
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      Aug 1 2011: I recently planned a project called 'Fancy a Pint'? to try and get people talking/meeting in my apartment block. Unfortunately the management company weren't up for it and didn't even give a reason... :( All I wanted to do was put a poster in the lobby and invite people to share their interests and leave messages for each other as a precursor to maybe meeting up. I think my mistake was in asking for permission!The project is here: http://www.glittermouse.co.uk/fancy-a-pint.html
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        Aug 1 2011: Hey Annabeth - You've struck a related nerve! I've created community-based projects that would benefit from promotion through flyers, yet the neighborhood association considers them illegal. This is a common knee-jerk reaction - that all flyers are litter. But there's a lot of constructive information we could share if given the chance... Businesses can shout about their products on an increasing number of public surfaces, while the flyer about the community-improving event is illegal. How can we change the perception of informal messages in public space?
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          Aug 1 2011: Well I think one way would be to be more assertive about doing it and then be noisy about demonstrating the benefits! Making transience an inherent part of the method of delivery might also help make it less threatening. Chalk, shadows, bread crumbs! :D
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      Aug 1 2011: I did a project last year in Ozark, AL called My Wish for Ozark. It's coincidentally very similar to some of the things you do. But I really had to go out and get wishes from folks physically which was fun. The powers that be thought I was "that kooky girl from NY" but ultimately asked me to give them a copy of the wishes so they could see what the people wanted. http://www.mywishforozark.com/
    • Aug 1 2011: This is a great conversation, thanks for having it. I have been interested in what my neighbors, or just people nearby, locally and globally wish for everyday or on special days, at different ages and different places. I started an idea called I wish, and its a start on mywishport.org where you can send a wish anonymously.Then with a great team we created freestanding digital sculptures that we call Culture MINEs and the dream is to have them placed in public spaces so others can see the wishes- that are locally searched or from around the world. Along with the public wishes we feature the wishes from local and global non-profits so everyone has a little wish from someone in need for the day. We hope to get funding to get this project out there, and then you can find wishes on Culture MINES in your local train stations, public buildings, schools, shopping centers, everywhere we can get 4SF of space. For now you can just send a wish and see it on http://www.mywishport.org Send us your wishes text iwish to 41411
    • Aug 3 2011: I recently started a community page for the neighborhood to share information like lost pets, garage sales, good baby sitters, etc. Ideally, local police departments, gov't representatives, etc. would also connect via this page and be able to dialogue with citizens more easily and directly.
  • Aug 1 2011: Why does Sarah Palin seem like a reasonable option? I live in a conservative area and am inundated with "Palin 2012" bumper stickers and lawn signs on a daily basis.
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    Aug 1 2011: I would ask them all:

    What do you love about living in this neighborhood? What would need to change to make it better?

    While I expect more than a few might not have an answer, it might cause them to start thinking about how their actions can make our neighborhood a better place and maybe also think about how their actions make it an unpleasant place to live, sometimes, too.
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    Aug 1 2011: My question would be simply this:
    What four qualities do you think make a good neighbor?

    The answers would tell me a lot about each neighbor's personality type as well as their expectations. I would then proceed with respect to those around me by trying to be a 'good' neighbor. However, I would continue with respect to myself by not losing touch of who I am and what unique perspective and experience I bring to the neighborhood.