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 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.

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