Sunday, December 9, 2012

building community the Seattle way

Jim Diers, a former Director of Neighbourhoods in Seattle, presented in Hamilton last week encouraging us to unlock the energy, talents and resources of people in their local communities in partnership with the city.

He gave the example of his own community which was run-down, suffering from increasing crime and loss of local businesses.

Many ideas came from a neighbourhood gathering, these included:

  • painting empty shops so as to look like thriving businesses.  They became attractions in their own right and businesses moved back in.
  • The worst shop on the block was done up and turned into a bike shop which became a community hub to which people gave their old bikes, volunteers did them up, taught others and donated them to locals (and sent 500 to Africa).
  • They purposely increased the number of places where locals met up -  e.g. well placed seats, letterbox libraries, a tea van which visited various localities

Matching funds: the City of Seattle supports neighbourhood initiated projects by "community match" -  matching community funds, in-kind support and costed volunteer hours.  The city requires an inclusive neighbourhood approach for projects and has had demonstrable success in involving otherwise marginalised groups.  "Everyone has something to contribute".

Initially modest and tentative, over the last 25 years Marching Funds has grown into a well-accepted and well-supported programme which has generated over 3,000 projects many of which would not otherwise have been possible.  More importantly, the neighbourhood groups have been empowered and encouraged to continue on to do more.  "Bringing people together is as important as the result.  They have reasons to come out of the house." 

In a three-tier approach, from "small sparks" to large projects, Seattle's Matching Funds have supported community initiated projects ranging from park developments, playgrounds, community gardens, public art, trail development, neighbourhood plans, stream clean-ups, events, oral histories, classes, facility development, cultural celebrations and much more. 

While Hamilton City Council already embraces aspects of this approach, we do not have consistency or guidelines around matching funds.  If we do so, we will still need skilled staff to work with community groups in this way. We could make a start through a pilot project.

Matching Funds would enable us to do more than we are otherwise able to do through valuing local knowledge, passions and skills.

1 comment:

  1. Some great ideas there. I would especially like to see the "painting empty shops" option applied in our city. Speaking of shops, the ones down Mardon Road, next to my house could definitely do with upgrading at some point in the near future.