TED Conversations

Ziska Childs

Freelancer, united scenic artists


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How do we get back the neighborhood?

Of course I'm referencing the 2012 TED prize The talk which inspired this question has been posted: Jen Pahlka talking about "Peace Corps for Geeks" aka- coding for government. One of the ideas in that talk which resonated for me was it's not about making the bureaucracy easier- it's about solving the problems. More often than not that means getting the bureaucracy out of the way and letting people be neighborly. "Adopt a fire hydrant"- shovel it out when there's a snow storm. That's pretty simple stuff and it promotes Community - with an upper case "C".

I've seen my own home town go from a place where I could walk to everything (the butcher the baker the candlestick maker) to one where there are 30,000 vehicle round trips a day. This is for a town of 6000 residents. The service providers drive in and out for work. The residents drive out and in to go to school, the hospital, the rec center and to find lower priced goods. Employee housing (also out of town-but closer) has resulted in a boost for the construction industry which increases the service trips in and out. Placing a transfer tax on real estate has favored flipping and cowboy development. I only mention this to emphasize that treating the symptom doesn't work and the unintended consequences can be devastating.

So, how do we get back the neighborhood? How do we get back the Community?

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    Apr 5 2012: Peace and Quiet. Being able to hear a pin drop outdoors in the middle of the night. Communing with the planets and stars with a sky that is unobstructed by buildings and city light. Truly seeing the Milky Way in all it's Glory for the first time, from my own back yard. Living within 2 blocks of a HUGE nature preserve. Sleeping in - in the mornings and taking naps in the afternoon. Asking to borrow a bail of hay to feed an abandoned horse. (a Real Estate crisis victim) And getting the entire communities help, support and admiration. Knowing exactly who lives where, within 500 yards of you, by name. Sitting in on Community Council meetings and having your voice listened to and more than that, having their backing when a problem arises with a public utility. (VERIZON!) These are just a few of those things - like Julie Andrews sings about: My favorite things. . . ."and then I don't feel so bad". The human condition is alive and well - and living in the far reaches, outside the cities. Very inexpensive homes in my neighborhood lately . . . .(?)
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    Mar 31 2012: How do we get back the neighborhood?
    Its a vast subject. Were to start ? The solutions are not very complicated I think. There is the internal neighborhood our motivation, the reasons we desire Neighborhood and the external neighborhood.
    I have run a few events on our small community in Bath and these have helped in a small way develop neighborhood The strange thing is though that only about 10% of the population ever show events. If we see the Neighborhood as a network where everybody knows everybody then its practially none existent. But the master beighbourhood network has many smaller sub networks which link at ramdom places to other networks. Such networks include such things as old money/ land, school mums, kid, church, dog walkers, long term residents ( sort of elders) parish councilors, people who catch the bus at the same time.....
    There is no magic glue that bonds the network together, it just trivial contact which grows into something else.
    To develop neighborhood just needs a medium for such contact to happen. And I think food and music and alcohol provided in a way which invites all the cummunity along is a reasonable starting point. The next event will go further I hope and use things like open space and world cafe to increase the number of relationships which can develop.
    I do have some concern though as the majority will not come along. While I respect their rights I also feel that perhaps they are more vulnerable and far less well resourced due to lack on local connection. So when a crisis happens they will not know how to connect into others around them who in turn link to to others who might be able to help. It quite interesting mathematically. If i know only 3 people - the chance are they will not be very gagairious so after 4 links in the network I am linked to only 27 other. But if I have know 50 people on the other hand I am linked to 125,000 people. Its a massive pool of goodwil, and out of it the nectar of coincidence will flow
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    Mar 30 2012: (This is meant to respond to comments below by Ziska Childs and Pat Gilbert.)

    Well, our Guidance Committee, and the organization in general, is non-partisan, comprised of a couple of labor activists, a GOP Central Committee Member, an attorney, a former professor of Public Administration, a mother of four whom she home-schooled, a real-estate agent/local business owner, a 90-something former machinist with a Simon for Governor bumper sticker still on his pick-up truck, and me, a former budget director of the County of Orange, CA. So, no "bent;" we try to keep focused on our mission.

    We have gatherings, not meetings and our organization chart is three concentric circles, each becoming increasingly porous as you approach the outer ring.

    Though this may sound a bit "California Woo Woo," we are actually pretty pragmatic, and like the "does it work" criterion. The model is pretty well thought-out, based on a lot of research and experience in community organizing here and abroad. And we're having fun!
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    Mar 29 2012: Fun is important. While in Barcelona last year, we came across a local community project that was asking people to tell/show on paper (that got displayed in innovative was in an old plaza) what Barcelona meant to them, We're thinking: block parties, hotdogs, seed packets (of the Signal Hill city flower-zinnia), and the Barcelona model of getting input in a fun way.

    Trying to reach out in ways that respond to your comments above.
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    Mar 29 2012: Hi Pat, (This is meant to respond to Pat Gilbert's question about metrics.)

    Great question. Admittedly, we have a ways to go in terms of the quantitative and systematic gathering of data to measure success--my understanding of "metric." But in our first year we deemed our efforts successful by: Surveys and polls taken--number of responses. Policy issues affected--City established new procedures abiding by the State open meetings act. Citizen participation--Council chambers packed to unprecedented levels on two occasions. Community First name recognition--number of times name is used by others in public meetings. Organizational rhythms established--Guidance Committee meetings monthly, special meetings to address specific issue intervention. Leadership dialogue (rich communications environment)--high number of email messages.

    As we add more community-building activities to our now established "watchdog" activities, we will be challenged to come up with more (and realistic) metrics.

    I'll be interested in your observations.
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      Mar 29 2012: I like what you are doing I think it important to create this sort of activity as it is a place where the individual can have a platform something conspicuously absent these days.

      Regarding metrics I think that it a natural tendency to get get complex with them my advise would be to keep it simple. At the same time they are important to tell you if your surveys are working, that you are resonating with the public.

      Do you guys have a bent towards the left or the right?
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        Mar 29 2012: ...the only label which really interests me is "does it work?" - (sort of like the "will it blend" series.) closely followed by "is it flexible enough to change when it stops working?"
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          Mar 30 2012: The reality is that one of those labels does what you are saying.

          This is where the metrics come in.
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    Mar 23 2012: Our cities in Germany are really total different - when I read the title of your conversation I was instantely triggerd to participate, but expected a total different problem.

    I am afraid to reverse the development, you regret and describe, would need a total different tax system to give incentives to change individual real-estate and housing habits. Here in Germany you have the profit of selling a house tax-free - if you have kept it for at least 10 years.... so this loweres mobility and resales of houses.

    Getting back the community in Germany is really about public space to meet .... the kindergarden for grown-ups is missing, especially in a single society.
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    Mar 8 2012: Your question is your answer.

    Top down thinking is one of the fundamental problems with this country and the growth at the federal level that is unconstitutional. The neighborhood is bottom up thinking.

    To the point about fixing citizenship I would contend that government has metastasized into the culture-thought process of the citizens causing them to become more inane and requiring more government, down to the level of dealing with a possum.

    The only legitimate functions of government are rule of law and national defense. By getting back to the intended functions of the founders it forces people to handle the things that should be handled by the citizens.

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      Mar 8 2012: You could argue that a strong Community is in the best interest of a National Defense. The best "security" on an airplane I ever experienced was October 2001 on United. Our Purser stood in the center aisle. Instead of giving the usual "This is a seat belt." speech she thanked us for flying United. Then she said "Look to the right of you, look to the left of you, introduce yourselves. These are your new best friends for the next 3 hours."

      How would you foster a sense of Community on an individual scale? What bottom up solutions could you suggest?
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        Mar 8 2012: The question is the answer.

        30 yr ago our city had a volunteer fire department. When I was a kid staying at my grandfathers cabin in a very small town of 200 there was no fire department when a fire got of control the whole town dropped everything and put it out.

        100 or so years ago there was no public education, no welfare, no unemployment, no public health, no food stamps, no CRA, no energy department, et. al.; of course you will argue the relative value of each of these. Like I said before these have metastasized into the culture-thought process of the citizens causing them to become more inane and requiring more government, down to the level of dealing with a possum.

        So changing this is huge and probably not possible but make no mistake about it the result of this will be a failed nation whose story has been repeated itself many times throughout history. This video explains it very well:


        Anything that reduces spending will starve the cancer, so voting for candidates who reduce spending is key. This flies in the face of general TED thinking but it is none the less true.

        The individual survives and prospers in the small group, the small group (families, churches, local clubs) is where the individual can communicate, not so with a monolith, you see? Become active with these.
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          Mar 8 2012: Small groups 150-200?

          Volunteerism (clubs, churches, fire department).

          Family. I can definitely see co-housing as a way to get an extended family.

          It's all sounding like Community to me. So, I think we're beginning to define *what* a Community is which is half the battle.

          Thanks for Niall Ferguson I hadn't listened to that talk before. I'd recommend considering GNH Gross National Happiness as a measure of successful Governance, the documentary "Happy" and Michael Wood's excellent series "Legacy"

          Aside, we still have a Volunteer Fire Department. Their response time is excellent the guys are great and they mostly hang out at the Elks Club.They needed extensive City funding for the new Fire House, Trucks and Communications equipment.
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        Mar 8 2012: I will look at those vids when I have time.

        I would say that the extensive funding is a fraction of what the professional fire fighters
        here cost, and income spiking, and disability that allows them to retire with 90% (or more) at age 50. Here in Calif that is a 6 figure salary by the way.
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        Mar 9 2012: Ziska

        I looked at this video re GNH and the prince of Butan.

        Not sure I agree as imo happiness comes from striving for and the achievement of goals. That is not to say that helping people is not a large part of that sucess, I think it is.
        I don't buy into the Maslow's hierarchy either, I have a different take on that.

        Most business owners are very much aware of and practice a lot of what Chip is talking about.

        The happiness scale imo should be an index of survival in other words is the individual citizen surviving better, the family surviving better, the community surviving better, the people of earth surviving better. When someone is surviving better he is happy this is obvious when he makes milestones of survival, graduation, marriage, children, your city prospers, your country prospers.

        The free market creates more survival for all involved, it is solely responsible for raising the standard of living of the world.

        I might add that production is what creates morale not the despair that is the common image. So from this perspective production creates happiness, this is my empirical view from 35 years of business.
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          Mar 9 2012: The premise of the "Happy" documentary is that we've spent a long time studying what makes us depressed- about time we studied what makes us happy. We're 50% hardwired for our happiness mean, 10% is due to our material comfort and the remaining 40% is up to us. Most of the documentary is devoted to how we can effect our own happiness (40%). Survival isn't necessarily the route to happiness- in fact if you look at the stats once basic needs have been met it's 10% the other 40% is up to us. Asking the director of this documentary , Roko Belic, if he could pick just one thing which led to happiness what would it be his response was "Community".

          Maslow? Okay, not my field but I'd rather look at a study of endorphins- "exemplary people" is such a difficult paradigm. Aren't we all "exemplary" to someone? Isn't that locked in the moment?

          "Chip"? Chip who? (or am I going to be sorry I asked?)
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        Mar 9 2012: Survival is not a yes or no question. You can survive better than your were surviving before, and you can survive better than before as part of your family, your group, your planet. Does that make sense?

        When I searched gross national happiness on TED I came up with Chip Conley

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          Mar 9 2012: We judge ourselves in comparison to others. We just do- it's a human thing. Food, shelter, these are basics without which we're pretty unhappy (been there, done that, don't need to do it again). After that it's a matter of degree. Certainly we've all made personal choices as to what is the most important path to follow in our own lives (a luxury in itself that). If you feel that each of us is an island then you are free to pursue that in your daily life. Those of us who choose to get involved with others (yes, even in a digitized conversation like this one) may add "Community" to that list of "Survival" basics. Volunteerism, Family, communities of 150-200 (my extrapolation making that a number of people living in proximity to "essentials" in the analog sense) are basics which you've cited. Got any more?

          Oh That Chip! Loved his talk.
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        Mar 9 2012: You understand I'm not saying anyone is an island? We are all in the same boat and connected.

        That is all I have to say about that.
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          Mar 10 2012: Agreed. I'm seeing the gunwales getting lower in the water...

          A lot of people out here in the Wild and Wooly West think that reduced Government means "I have a shovel and a gun and keep your taxes to yourself." It's easy to understand really - since most ranchers and farmers see taxes going out of their pockets into bottomless wells of City and large Corporate contracts benefiting population centers (where the voters are).

          Only when our 20 counties on the Western Slope of Colorado started lobbying together did they insure infrastructure (paved roads) and airstrips and (most recently) broadband. I mention this because I believe there is a place for Citizen Activism on a larger scale - when you have a common need which can only be addressed with a larger scale solution.
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    Mar 7 2012: I think this is such a good, apposite question Ziska. And framed exactly right - neighborhood. I read through the comments expecting to see people talk about how online communities play this role now. And they do fulfill part of this role, but there's a whole lot of it that they don't.

    I can't reference it right now, but I read somewhere that the size of extended circle of friends and acquaintances that we're most comfortable with is about 200.

    You can have neighborhoods within a city. Areas around universities often have many of the characteristics of a neighborhood, and I suppose that's related to the fact that they contains lots of students and academics and the university creates some sort of community.

    Perhaps a key thing is for people to work close to where they live - or even work from home. From an environmental perspective, cutting out commuting makes a lot of sense. I think the commute leads to a sort of compartmentalization of the different functions of a life that detracts from the sum of the whole. But how to achieve that ... I'm not sure. I think there are already some pressures in the right direction - the high cost of fuel, for instance. But when you're leading a more integrated life yourself, sometimes the neighborhood that you couldn't see before suddenly starts to emerge.
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      Mar 8 2012: 'couldn't agree more (and not just because you used the word apposite although that makes me all melty inside). I intended the post above this to be a direct response. You've hit the nail on the head I think. The size of the neighborhood determines it's success. A density of 200 must be within walking distance of "necessities"- like coffee and a newspaper where they will be "forced" to interact on a daily basis.
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      Mar 9 2012: From memory, I think it was Desmond Morris who made teh 200-persons estimate.
      He based that on the maximum size of tribal hunter-gatherer communities at the point that agriculture was invented.
      His assertion was that the agricultural revolution terminated Darwinian selection in the human species.
      I can't remember the whole book, but I suppose another form of selection has been operating since.
      I agree with Morris with some reservations - I haven't seen any good definitive studies on post agrarian selection - attempts to do so resulted in the horrors of the eugenics pseudo-science.
      I have great faith in human capacity to form-up into fully functional communities in a very short time.My faith is based on the folk festivals that I attend - these have comparatively loose organisation and run on volunteer contribution to produce an instant commmunity that lasts anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
      WIth numbers ranging from 1 to 100 thousand. THey are very functional and are a joy to participate in. If such communities had a need to remain functioning permanently, I am confident they would do OK - specially the smaller ones (1 to 5 thousand).
      I have a suspicion that the best way to bind a local community would be to bring essential supply back into walking distance. Back in the 90's when I was assisting development of online-shopping for a major supermarket, it was seen as a "competition only" development because the customers had a primary communal need which was satisfied by the natural meeting place of the bricks-and-mortar store.

      The next step after securing local supply is to develop local currency - then reclaim local governance at a level that fosters engagement.

      Although - I'd like to see the internet retained to keep localities aware of each other - this would help prevent too much divergence from broader commonality and allow for a healthy competition for the distribution of surpluses.
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      Mar 20 2012: I read about the thresshold of about 200 that any one person can know well in Gladwell's book the Tipping Point. Is it not possible, even in a big city, to have pockets of familiar neighbours of about 200 each? The larger city can support the infrastructure, while people are better at making connections (given the opportunity, location, and tools).

      Jim Diers gives compelling evidence from two neighbourhoods in Chicago; one vibrant, one disconnected. Both were similar demographically. When a killer heat wave hit the city, no-one died in the vibrant community. Neighbours checked in on the vulnerable, because they knew where they were. It was not so fortunate in the disconnected community next door.
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    Mar 7 2012: Ziska, you have probably read the classic by Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Some of the ideas still ring true, about dispersion of a mix of establishments worth making a stop for within walking distance of peoples' homes, places that are used by different people throughout the day, and so forth. But the concept that I find most interesting from a grass roots standpoint is the way she defines public characters. Specifically, a few well situated people become like nodes in the network of relationships in the neighborhood. She has in mind people who have a reason to be about in public, like the grocery store clerks or the newspaper vendor or postmaster. But I think it is worth considering whether there are quite a few people who can make something of a personal commitment to be useful public characters who connect people. My neighborhood has people I see that way. We don't necessarily know each others names, but we know things that are more important than names. (I live in a neighborhood in a medium-sized city).
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      Mar 7 2012: I lived in Greenwich Village for 10 years. What Jane Jacobs fought for is exactly what we've lost at the local level. If you want to find that in NYC today - and be able to buy into it- you need to go to Brooklyn. You need to go deep into Brooklyn and find a neighborhood which hasn't been gentrified and deal with the lack of services, the potential for violence, the long long walk from the subway.

      Years ago I worked on "Do the Right Thing" on BedSty Avenue. We "built" the pizza parlor and the bodega for the movie. Every day we would have people walking by asking if we were really building a pizza place or a grocery store. Every day we would say "No, this is a movie set. We'll tear it down after we leave." One day we had a man who had watched the whole process stand there shaking his head "If it's so easy to build it why don't we have them everywhere?" He wanted a small grocery store, he knew his neighborhood needed it, he didn't understand why there wasn't one- on every corner.

      I haven't read "Reconsidering Jane Jacobs" yet.
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        Mar 7 2012: One issue that you note and that she did, as I recall, is that once one does liven up the neighborhood, the gentrification quickly begins. My neghborhood
        (not at the street level in the sense of Jacobs but in the slightly larger way most of us think of neighborhoods) is getting a metro station in close proximity to where the more affordable housing is. I expect over the next ten years to see a great reduction in affordability of housing there as a result.
        I know the artist Theaster Gates is making a significant investment in community in the southside of Chicago. I don't know how catalytic or long-lived that will be.
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    Mar 6 2012: Probably one person at a time.

    To really have a community you need unity.....it starts with the individual being out and about getting to know one another and getting to know each other by name. Everybody today walks around, and more dangerously, drive around with their heads in their doodad, iphones, ipads, ipods, etc. The breakdown of communities in inevitable. The regaining of the neighborhood as you mention starts with the individuals themselves. If they do not see the value of getting to know their neighbor to begin with, I doubt you can get back the neighborhood back. Why clean up and beautify and contribute to a quality neighborhood when you do not like your neighbors?

    Short-cut solution: Move

    Long-term solution: Be the change agent

    Indifferent solution: Do as others do

    I like the long-term solution, but it involves a self-sacrificing spirit. Which involves spirituality of some sort (not religion). Anybody in your neighborhood take the time to visit you in your home and bring you good news lately?
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    Apr 6 2012: I want to thank everyone who participated in answering this question. You've all raised valid and interesting points and I hope the discussion will continue- here. on the City2.0 facebook page or more importantly in your own communities.

    I'll leave you with this link to a kickstarter project called "walk your city"

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    Apr 3 2012: ... continuing. But what I'm finding out is that our time and energies are consumed by our watchdog activities.

    I'm asking: Can the two--watchdog and community-building--be combined?
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    Apr 3 2012: I'm hoping this conversation will continue. Regarding the use of technologies to build community, I suggest Etienne Wegner's "Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities." http://amzn.to/Hduubt

    I stand somewhere in the middle between Ziska and Pat on the debate re. "shared experience for community building" vs. "goal-setting imperative." In the extreme, they are both simplistic. In fact, as you move toward the center of these two extremes, you arrive at a less fluffy and less rigid understanding that shared experience needs a unifying purpose, goals will come and go in the dynamics and evolution of your neighborhood-building efforts. That said--and to get back to earth--this is a very difficult position to operationalize, as we've found out at Community First. http://www.signalhillfirst.org/

    What is it that animates community participation? In Community First there are a few individuals--among them an attorney and former professor of Public Administration--who, when they dig deeply into city operations become outraged by the what they see as dishonest and unethical behavior. They have been leading the fight on a number of issues you can see on our website, and which generated outrage, in turn, by the powers that be and their allies.

    So we've generated some animosity, and the large majority of the population is "ho-hum" or turned-off as this is being "politics as usual;" while we see it as an important function of the organization to play this "watchdog" role. (The latest battle is around the city's efforts to expand its eminent domain powers in the wake of the state-mandated dissolution of the redevelopment agency; an esoteric but potentially significant turn of events, not fully appreciated by most of us.)

    A few of us in Community First are trying to figure out how to reach out to the community in more "positive" ways, to add a "community-building" component to our "watchdog" role.
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      Apr 3 2012: It sounds like being a watchdog is a purpose? Even ambitious?

      I think you have to look at what other community organizations have done well in this area and emulate them.
  • Apr 3 2012: We are living in peculiar situation. We don`t know the neighbor`s information, but we can tell about entire data about a person who lived far away from us. Everybody shows interest in chatting with unknown people, but have no time and lack of interest to talk with neighborhood.
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    Apr 3 2012: Dear Ms. Childs,
    It is a strange thing I've found. Having lived in big cities all my adult life, (NYC, LA, etc.) , it has been an eye opening experience to find the rural now area I live in to be the strongest sense of Community (Capital C) I have ever known. It has taken time, and a few crises, and talking to my neighbors and giving and getting help from them to give me the comfortable peaceful existence I think you crave. My experience tells me the answer to your question is this: Move to a rural area and start over.
    Warmest regards,
  • Apr 2 2012: This is a great question and I have struggled with it for years as I am a fan of bringing people together and encouraging community. I believe part of the answer is about creating incentives for people to interact and creating disincentives for using their cars. For example, in Chicago we have great mass transit system to get to the center of town and back. Chicago should consider taxing people who do not use mass transportation and use the money to subsidize it for those who use it. Perhaps a $5 per day tax on the hundreds of thousands of cars who travel from the suburbs to downtown each business day. This way we encourage people to come together to use common services.

    The trick is how do we get people to get out of their comfort zones (their houses and cars) and participate in their community.
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      Apr 5 2012: Thanks Richard I think "community" is the answer but getting there IMO needs a "carrot" approach more than a "stick".

      We've done a lot of "disincentives" for travel by car in our area but as long as goods need to be trucked in and workers need to carry their own tools those 30,000 round trips a day into a town of 6000 are pretty much fixed. The economic engine is in a place which doesn't house it's own workforce. Housing subsidies have not closed the gap and the town is full of empty "spec" homes.

      I've heard of one company which is taking homes in foreclosure and converting them to Senior Centers.
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    Apr 2 2012: WE have a system called LETS it is based on shares or credit system. i have information and resources from psychology, house sitting, mechanics, child minding, too hair cuts. im an electrician and dabble in handyman work but the best thing is you form good friendships....Damien McMinn
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      Apr 5 2012: I agree, barter is a way to connect directly with your neighbors (and "gifting"). Barter has always been a big part of life in rural areas and when the economy takes a downturn. It is a taxable form of income so people tend not to talk about it much....and it's normally viewed as a source of "lost income" by local officials.
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    Apr 1 2012: Pat, I don't mean to quote you out of context - but that pesky "reply" button seems to work on a quota system.

    "I tend to look at people or groups as to whether their purpose aligns with mine or not. "

    I understand the pleasure a person can get from being around "like minds". It's a great motivator.

    "In other words does gregariousness work or does purpose work? is gregariousness a product of purpose or is purpose a product of gregariousness? "

    They are not mutually exclusive in fact I don't think you can achieve your purpose without a certain amount of cooperative effort (hence the question on an open message board).

    The intent behind this question was to explore strategies for creating neighborhoods which are vital, close knit, enjoyable places to live.
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      Apr 1 2012: Ziska

      It doesn't having anything to do with like mindedness, it has to do with achieving one's goals.

      I did not say they are mutually exclusive, I said one is the product of the other.

      I contend that it has to do with purpose and goals.

      That is all I have to say about this.
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    Mar 30 2012: I think one suggestion I'd offer to many of the comments is that communities find ways to map discussion and issues. When I say map I have a few different concepts in mind.

    a) This link points to the Boston Indicators Project where there is a pie-chart that reflects issues important to Boston. Click into any slice and you dig deeper into that issue. http://www.bostonindicators.org/Indicators2008/
    b) This link points to a site that I host where a map of Chicago is used. It includes overlays showing poverty and poor schools, as well as sites of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs
    c) This link points to a map of information hosted in one section of my library - http://cmapspublic.ihmc.us/rid=1238727620187_1222661202_30228/Learnng%20Network%20-%20Research,%20Resources.cmap
    d) In a different TED discussion a writer showed how discussions could be mapped. http://www.ted.com/conversations/331/what_if_ted_utilized_the_mind.html.
    e) At http://debategraph.org/mentoring_kids_to_careers is another way to map discussions.

    If communities can provide sites that include these concepts they can expand the information that people have to build understanding of the issues and possible solutions. They create a platform anyone would be able to use. They also might make it easier to follow discussions related to specific topics. Using GIS maps the result could be more people sharing the same geographic working together.

    However, this is only a start. In order to get large numbers of people into these discussions all sorts of marketing and advertising techniques need to be used on an on-going basis to draw more people's to these sites. I wrote a blog article about this earlier this week. http://tutormentor.blogspot.com/2012/03/making-sense-of-info-using-it-to-solve.html In this I pointed to a concept called Massive Online Organized Curriculum (MOOC) that encourages on-going and in-depth learning by large numbers of people.

    The tools to make this possible keep expanding.
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    Mar 30 2012: (This is meant to reply to the question by Pat Gilbert, below.)

    Purpose, yes. You'll see the mission of Signal Hill Community First on our website. http://www.signalhillfirst.org/
    What you'll see is an emphasis on our "watchdog" orientation. This has stimulated a lot of interest over the last year.

    We are evolving, however, and 2012 will be a watershed year. What you won't see on the website--not quite yet--is much reference to our community-building role, an essential ingredient in our dual track design. Nor will you see any reference--again, not quite yet--to C.F. being a self-organizing system, informed by the literature regarding communities of practice (CoPs). http://www.ewenger.com/theory/ Other helpful resources are found in the work of Margaret J. Wheatley ("Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time") and Peter Block ("Community: The Structure of Belonging.")
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      Mar 30 2012: Richard

      Your mission statement is a bit ambiguous to me.

      Your purpose to me is for someone who has some time on their hands ie retired people.

      In today's environment I think that the government has become so onerous that making a living consumes a lot more of one's time, leaving little time to consider other activities.

      For me a purpose that I find to be imperative is the reduction in the size of government as this country very well may collapse if this does not occur. You can see how this is galvanizing.

      The corollary of shrinking government is the raising of the individual though small groups such as yours.
      Perhaps a better statement of the goals?
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    Mar 30 2012: Neighborhoods everywhere have resources like ours! The challenge is how to animate them.

    Getting back the excellent original question, "So, how do we get back the neighborhood?", I love telling our own story--and will continue, more fully and in more detail, if there is sufficient interest--but this TED Conversation needs to continue, and we need more of an exchange among real-world neighborhood development practitioners.

    As you, Ziska, pointed out earlier, and as others have pointed out in the course of the discussion, this neighborhood focus, this bottom-up orientation, is a critical part of the City 2.0 initiative. Others have their own story to tell.

    As this conversation nears its end, I'm prompted to ask: How can we continue and how can we expand the participation?

    Food for thought...
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      Mar 30 2012: I've found that telling stories sparks the same desire to share in others....

      Let's see if we can keep momentum for the next week..... if we still have interest it's as simple as posting another question to the TED board (just because I find the direct links from the individual talks helpful for bringing in diverse people with new insight)
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      Mar 30 2012: Richard

      I think the irreducible minimum for a group is that they have a purpose. Perhaps if you talk more about the purpose of you group?
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    Mar 29 2012: I just heard about "pop up museums" which use museum exhibits as a background for topical conversation. I certainly think there's room for improvement in our spaces for public debate.
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    Mar 26 2012: Urban sprawl and the necessity to provide the services to maintain a modern urban centre is fueled by the building industry. The builders buy undeveloped land and build it to suit their profit ratios. Societies are now built to maximize profit instead of ensuring a thriving community where people can feel like they are valued member. Again, greed is the motivating force behind the disconnect of society. No profit in taking, say a waterfront industrial site that may need rehabilitation and making it a focal point of societal content. How do we get back to the neighbourhood? Empower people to push builders into building a community that is more in keeping with social harmony.
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      Mar 26 2012: If the City Center is blighted developers will only purchase the "cheap" real estate if there is an equal or greater commitment from local government to provide transportation and other essential services. The reverse is true- if the City Center is too expensive services need to be trucked in.

      Who keeps the "social harmony" and how?
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    Mar 25 2012: There's some great discussion and a lot of potential solutions which all of you have brought out in this thread. May I trouble you to go one step further?

    Here's something which was sent to me recently. I've sat through quite a few meetings and I have to say- this rings true. Resoundingly true. One of the biggest problems when dealing with city planning is how to present your ideas in a friendly, informative and (this is really important) succinct fashion. We've got 12 days left. Any ideas?

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      Mar 25 2012: I agree one needs to present ideas in an informative and succinct way, but there are some factors of the context I believe are important to understand. First, public hearings of a formal sort in any case tend to limit time for each speaker. Then many speakers speak one after the other in a way that mainly serves to get their ideas on the record. But often the decision at hand has already been made and the opportunity to give input is not as real as it may appear.A second factor in bringing ideas forward is that decisionmakers at the local level, if ideas are brought to them, are bombarded with different ideas from different parts of their constituencies. This makes more data to process than may be humanly possible. What makes its way through may be less the content of the message and its presentation than the relationship the decisionmaking body has with that specific constituency from interaction over time. It is a little bit like the way many people do not do through research into each item on a ballot but follow the recommendations of a group they have found credible over time.When we are not talking about public hearings but rather a meeting a group gains with an individual, a vital aspect of preparation is to study what the typical interests are of the person to whom one is bringing the proposal.
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      Mar 27 2012: Can I throw the C-word at you?
      Charrette. I think it helps us to re-examine the whole idea of 'the presentation', of public hearings, and of the roles of the key players.

      There is a shifting of the role of architects/urban planners in the City 2.0. A new player, The Facilitator, has become a crucial element 'at the table'. Their main purpose is simply to organize the people involved (professionals, politicians and community-members alike) and send them towards goals that are defined by the community itself.
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      Mar 28 2012: Yes, how to turn public hearings into public listenings?

      Turning around a dysfunctional civic culture is not easy, as we have found in our small Southern California city, near the now-infamous City of Bell. We've been at it for about a year, and have developed a model mixing the "watchdog" approach with the more educational approach of the League of Women Voters. (So, we've found, there is a time for friendly dialogue, and a time for calculated conflict.)

      But sensitive to concerns about simply "promoting the same but with a different flavor," we (a small group dedicated to governmental transparency and inspiring our neighbors to engage in city affairs), have laid the groundwork for our own functioning using the ideas of Communities of Practice (CoPs). It took us a while to get there (see Etienne Wenger's work on CoPs: http://www.ewenger.com/theory/ ), and we are still defining our community and seeking the proper mix of problem-solving with community-building. Take a look at our website www.signalhillfirst.org/

      We are an evolving organization and very sympathetic to many of the ideas and views presented in this fascinating thread. I would love to continue this discussion among others who are in the throes of actual neighborhood action/organization.

      Good Job Ziska!
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        Mar 28 2012: You had me at "Public listenings."

        Is the Signal Hill page based on Etienne Wenger's "community platform" using a wordpress format?

        (and thanks)
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          Mar 28 2012: Hi Ziska,

          Wenger's thesis--and our guide for how to go about our business--is, I'm told, a bit too theoretical for our website which, yes, is on Wordpress.... if I understand your question correctly.

          As Facilitator of Community First, my focus is on organization design and internal communications--the superstructure upon which the responses to issues addressed in our website are built. Sounds a bit too high-falutin, but its at that organization level where I think a dialogue on policy-related, community building can most effectively occur.

          We are talking about a change in civic culture which begins with BEING the community we desire; but also within real-world, political context. A challenge, as you can imagine.

          There may be some similarities with the Occupy Movement and, perhaps, even Burning Man. (At least according to some we met at the BIL "unconference" where we presented recently.) But we, by contrast, are a bunch of old fogies.

          So, if anyone is curious about what we are up to, the theoretical foundation and practical issues that arise as we move forward, i.e., expand our "core" and focus more on community-building (to supplement our "watchdog" role), perhaps we can continue to dialogue.

          Ziska, you did such a great job of formulating the original question. Perhaps now you can prompts a new, more focused, practical discussion. We need your ideas and perhaps a few of ours might be helpful to you.
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        Mar 29 2012: Hi Richard

        Can I ask what metric you use for your organization?
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        Mar 29 2012: Richard,

        Replying to this thread since it seems we've maxed out replies on the one below.

        "(Citizens are) seen as an essential resource and stakeholder in the public policy process"

        The ones who show up are the ones who get to influence the policy (squeaky wheel syndrome).

        We're back to a really big question- how do we get people motivated to participate?
        How do we keep it civilized?
        How do we keep discussions on point?

        Not everyone is comfortable speaking in public or on the internet. Not everyone can state their issues without becoming emotional- or worse- using personal attacks. Not everyone can speak in simple enough language to make their point; and *everyone* gets misunderstood at one time or another.

        Catching flies with honey.

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    Mar 25 2012: What a complex problem! I think the key element is (captain obviously) the built environment. Despite all the advances in our virtual reality - the non-physical world - I think in the end we must admit that only a reorganization of our physical world, i.e. the built environment, will allow us to see our way through this coming transformation of society.

    Having said that, our built environment is ultimately created according to land use regulations/zoning laws that are themselves governed at a municipal level. This is reassuring. Municipalities are comprised of a (relatively) small group of people.

    With the right user-interface, and competent facilitators to guide the overall process, it is certainly possible to physically alter the built environment in favor of ‘the neighborhood’. The trick is to try and get the neighborhood itself involved in the process.

    I’m not saying there is a formula for this; surely we are still figuring it out. But to say that it is beyond our current capability, considering politics, economics, etc., is uninformed; it is already happening.

    If you have any interest at all in this process or case studies resulting from it, please see the linked document below.