The Simple Theory Providing a Path Out of This Mess

Path

How do we reverse our troubling slide into tribalism and polarization? How do we create a society where people of different backgrounds and beliefs are tolerant and accepting of one another? How can we convene communities to work together to tackle their shared challenges without devolving into Us vs Them conflict?  To find the answers we must dive deep into…

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How to Engage Communities in an Age of Tribalism

Dog Owners. Park Lovers. Conspiracy Theorists. Community engagement typically involves the participation of many types and groups of people. This is both a wonderful opportunity and a source of potential conflict.  To navigate the complex intersection of human behavior and community engagement, it’s helpful to think like a social psychologist.  Social psychologists often frame people’s behavior in terms of their…

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How to Make Community Engagement Better

Way back in the 1970’s, the design and planning professions responded to growing environmental concerns by cross-pollinating with the fields of ecology and biology, birthing the sustainable design movement. Today, those of us who work with communities face a similar moment. The social context of our practice is changing dramatically underneath our feet. Our society is experiencing a seismic shift…

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How to Build Back Better from the Bottom Up

Communal batch cooking, collaborative childcare, repair cafes, street festivals, teen trade schools, small business incubation, community gardens. Such low-threshold and low-commitment opportunities draw people into participating in civic life without requiring copious time or energy. They provide opportunities to connect with new people and build a sense of belonging. And they contribute to a network of mutual benefit supporting those…

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Nine Reasons Why Community Projects Fail

Have you ever seen a community-driven project fail to get off the ground, or fall apart in progress? Sadly, this is often the fate of many well-intentioned community efforts. Why do these projects fail? It’s a daunting list. Participatory City, the community-building model I’ve been writing about for the last couple of posts, has assembled a powerfully concise and insightful…

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Three Reasons Why People Don’t Participate In, Start or Grow Projects.

In my last post I sung the praises and promise of Participatory City, a UK-based model for strengthening communities by “mainstreaming practical participation.” It’s one of the most exciting and innovative initiatives I’ve seen.  I also discussed one striking statistic from Participatory City’s research: 60% of people are willing to work together to improve their neighborhood, but only 3% ever…

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The Best Community Building Model You’ve Never Heard Of

What if you could dream up some great community-building idea, like a community kitchen or a clothing exchange, and walk into a place in your neighborhood that would provide trained staff and funding to help you get it off the ground?  If this sounds too good to be true, it’s time to pinch yourself. I want to tell you about…

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No Really – Where’s the Love???

Last month I had published an Op-Ed piece in the Seattle Times, “Where’s the Love (and $$) for Seattle’s Neighborhoods,” which focused on the tragic decline of Seattle’s Neighborhood Matching Fund. My Op-Ed instigated a series of conversations with City Council members, aids to City Council members, City department staff, neighborhood community organizers, and more. Here are some insights from…

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On the Origins of our Engagement Expectations

Once upon a time people designed and made their own places. Cities, towns, and villages were organic manifestations of local culture, knowledge, and materials. Whether the warrens of European streets, the villages of indigenous peoples or the public squares of colonial American towns, such people-built places are now celebrated for their authenticity and charm. Now decisions about the built environment…

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Community Engagement vs Community Building (in One Handy Chart)

Your local bank. Your favorite soft drink. The big municipal infrastructure project. These days it seems like everyone is somehow in the business of “community engagement” and “building community.”   I would like to call attention to a really important distinction between these two terms: engaging communities in a decision-making process is not the same as building community. Wait….wha? Well, what’s…

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