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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Ladybug Confessions and the Conditions for Good Behavior

Wallybug Divided

A few months ago I opened up the Seattle Times to see an amazing aerial photograph of “The Wallybug.” The Wallybug, a large street painting of a ladybug in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, was my first real community organizing and placemaking project, completed right after I finished graduate school on the street where I lived. The Wallybug was also the first…

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Why do only the White Folks show up? Diversity and Inclusion in Community Engagement.

“It was one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the City. The Steering Committee was four older white women…” “It was one of the most diverse elementary schools in the state. The people who showed up for the first community meeting were almost entirely white…” Sound familiar? With conversations about racism and diversity rising to the forefront of America’s consciousness…

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Covid & Community, Part I: Headwinds for Engagement.

No more than five people. In Washington State that’s the maximum number of people who can get together at any one time and place in Washington State.   If you didn’t think community engagement work was already challenging, these types of restrictions on in-person gatherings are creating headwinds for many professionals and communities who conduct community engagement work. For most this…

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