The activities at this level bring immediate and tangible improvement to the neighborhood, but they’re also a huge help when you need to level up. It’s one thing for Council or Administration to ignore a single person or group calling for safer streets in their area…but it becomes a lot harder to ignore when nearly a dozen community groups in a neighborhood start working together on actual traffic calming projects.
Not to mention that success in one neighborhood nearly always inspires other neighborhoods to do the same. One neighborhood applying for a Use of Street permit to install a parklet on a regional street? Who cares? But a dozen neighborhoods doing it? Well, now the City might have to hire someone to deal with this…
But success at this level is dependent on having existing bonds between neighbors. There has to be a certain amount of trust already built-up to get people to come and pull weeds at the park with you.
So, if you’re having a hard time garnering neighborhood support for your project, you’ve likely got some nurturing to do at the level below. Time to level down!
3. Street Level
For the purposes of this level, when I say street, I mean the immediate vicinity of where you live. It can be all or some of the residences on your street, but it can also mean the houses across the back lane from you, the other apartments on your floor, or some other measure of “close by.”
At this level, you’re looking to connect with the people who share the same general space in the neighborhood as you.
Examples of activities at this level include bringing muffins or a bottle of wine to a neighbor who just moved in, setting up a turquoise table or bench in your front yard, creating a love letter with your garden, drawing a macarena zone on your sidewalk, or planning a pancake party in your front yard for your neighbors. But it can be almost anything you imagine!
You’re building trust, and opening the door to conversations about your neighborhood. You’ll find that no matter how different people are, when you live close by, you’ll tend to have the same vested interests in the neighborhood, similar things you like about it, and similar worries about what could be improved.
These are the people who’ll eventually help you organize an outdoor family movie night, build an on-street parklet, or weed the park, at the Neighborhood Level.
But if you’re struggling to find the motivation or mental energy to put yourself out there at this level, you may need to level down once more.
4. You Level
Sometimes, you just need to focus on some self-care. You can’t recharge the neighborhood, or the city, if your own batteries are on low.
You may need to completely unplug for a bit, and just take a breather from being a change-maker. You’ll come back to it when you’ve filled your cup.
One of my favorite things to do at this level is walk around my neighborhood. In addition to all the physical and mental benefits that walking itself confers, going for a walk lets you reconnect with your neighborhood in a way nothing else can. It lets you start to recognize familiar faces who may have similar walking routes, or have you discover a new local shop that just opened up. And importantly, you’ll be able to notice, up close, where your neighborhood, and your neighbors, struggle. Whether that’s an unsafe crossing, a broken tree branch, a community center in dire need of repair, a bus stop that could use some shade or a bench, or any number of other things, this is where you’ll gain the insight needed for the conversations with your neighbors at the Street Level.
Another thing to do at this level is to continue to educate yourself. Whether that’s watching videos on YouTube (I highly recommend Not Just Bikes), reading blogs (I obviously recommend Strong Towns), or reading books (I have lots of recommendations…I may even develop a page for that one day), you can’t go wrong learning something you didn’t know before.
On that topic, I recently had the privilege to read an advance copy of Chuck Marohn’s second book in the Strong Towns series, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town, which is due for release on September 8th.