When you think social innovation, you might think micro loans in developing countries, or hand-ups to help people in from the fringes here at home. Or a wide range of ways to build social capital or how charitable institutions backstop community with philanthropy. But for those of you who are working in the city planning trenches every day, using collaborative design workshops to engage the people, you’re really running a form of social innovation lab.
Five or so years ago, Better Cities and Towns publisher Rob Steuteville told me about Porchfest, a yearly community event taking root in his Ithaca, New York, neighborhood. The idea is simple: For one afternoon, porches throughout the community become makeshift stages, yards become venues, and people from within and beyond wander the streets, chatting, taking in music, and basically reacquainting themselves with what it means to be neighbors.
It’s grass roots, open to all, and totally free.
It was an idea ripe for emulation and I had the perfect idea where: My own, porch-laden neighborhood in Decatur, Georgia. So I added it to my list of things I need to get right on, then promptly neglected it for the next five years.
Thankfully, over the course of those years, a lot of other communities had similar inclinations — and better follow-through. Now, there are upwards of 40 Porchfests across the continent and the list keeps growing.
Friday, July 17, 2015
Launching Adventure Canada’s Heart of the Arctic expedition, we left Ottawa at dawn by charter flight, landing in Kuujjuaq before lunch. One glance out the window of the plane reinforces that “open space” has a whole new meaning here.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems. That’s what Biggie says. Me, I lack the net worth to fully test the premise, but I tend to agree anyways. Because it’s something that plays out at the community level over and over again.
Too often, people are conditioned to believe that, with the right vision, leadership or hard work, a community can prosper and, in time, overcome its problems. That you can exist at a point where you’re down, come together in response, then ultimately reach some idealized state where your challenging times are behind you.
Having just wrapped up what may have been our favorite CNU ever, in Dallas on April 29 through May 2, we want to share some of the ideas that resonated the most with us. The topics below are snippets of great insights from many voices, including the likes of Andrés Duany, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Doug Farr, and Lynn Richards on Social Connections; Dr. Antwi Akom and Dan Slone on Equity; Charles Montgomery and Hazel Borys on Happiness; Chris Leinberger and Peter Calthorpe on Economics; John Anderson, Bruce Tolar, and Ben Brown on Affordability; Marina Khoury, Susan Henderson, Matt Lambert, Jennifer Hurley, Peter Park, and Hazel Borys on Form-Based Codes; Jeffrey Tumlin on Parking (and Dancing), Andrés Duany, Hank Dittmar, and Sandy Sorlien on Lean Urbanism; Scott Bernstein and Lee Sobel on Pedestrian Malls; and Jon Coppage, Andrés Duany and Charles Marohn on Politics. The Congress was full of concurrent sessions we wish we could have attended, so if you’re blogging other ideas or the pieces missing from these topics, please give us those links in the comment section.
Let’s take a wild stab at a generalization: Success at building a business or growing a non-profit or making a community more livable depends a lot on trust.
You have to keep delivering what you promise to get people to keep buying what you’re selling.
“What a bunch of idiots. Don’t they know this will create a traffic nightmare?”
Sound familiar? It’s the most commonly voiced complaint any time the community conversation turns to traffic calming.
Taken at face value, it’s not an outrageous sentiment. After all, when you’re out and about, anything that stands between you and where you want to be looks like a problem. So why on earth would anyone choose to further complicate your commute on purpose?
For reasons both mysterious and irrelevant, Citylab’s Facebook page promoted a two and a half year old post on bike theft this weekend. What proved interesting about it, at least to me, is that in explaining market demand for stolen bicycles, it referenced a study on how people perceive different types of crime — finding that receiving stolen property and failing to return misdelivered property are considered so insignificant that respondents rated them not really worthy of punishment.
For some reason — perhaps because the weather was poor, I have a 15 year old daughter, and watching movies makes for a good way to cope with both — one of the themes of the Doyon Family holiday break ended up being future dystopias. Not something necessarily aligned with the hopeful messages more commonly associated with the season but instructive nonetheless.