My first job out of college was working for an urban planning and design firm, though I had no background in it. Since then I've had an amateur interest in city planning, placemaking, and community spaces. Last year I started looking into City Repair, a local non-profit that helps communities become more resilient and connected through placemaking project support - they call that annual program Village Building Convergence. So on a rainy Thursday evening this December, I biked over to Ex Novo Brewing in Eliot neighborhood for an event hosted by City Repair, to hear people from a distant SE neighborhood tell the story of how they came together over several years to build a tight-knit community in the face of an established culture of isolationism and fear in their crime-ridden neighborhood. After holding several fundraisers such as plant and rummage sales, they raised enough money to paint two large mural art pieces on two major street intersections.
The story was inspiring. They moved themselves from a place of helplessness to empowerment, and turned their social isolation into social capital. Embodying the tenets of permaculture and the Transition movement, they saw the potential in their social capital to create positive change. The traditional paradigm of our age lies in power structures, entertainment, advertising and other forms of material capital. These aspects do not address real challenges that communities face - as one person put it, "banks fund isolated landscapes". By coming together to work on placemaking projects, the community successfully banished the daily drug and crime that isolated them in fear, and created lasting connections with each other, new community traditions like BBQs and gardening with kids. As VBC says, "community ownership and empowerment is what makes resilient places". By making your community more livable, it also gets safer and stronger.
After the presentation and Q&A, City Repair volunteers asked everyone to read through their 2014 placemaking toolkit, design cheat sheet, and application. Here's how it works: Every year, City Repair solicits ideas from communities that want to work on a placemaking project of some kind - and there are a LOT of different kinds. (You can download the packets here.) City Repair reviews the applications and works with the organization to figure out the best way to go about it - they help figure out how much it will cost, if they need to modify the idea to make it more workable, how many people and committees they might need, etc. They basically empower and educate people on how to do what they want to do. The applications are due January 22, with the application fee, which goes toward the project. However, they are flexible with the fee - it can be paid later, or with money from another grant. They do have scholarships for those with financial constraints but given that they are almost 100% volunteer-driven, the application fee helps them produce this incredible service to community members for affordable rates and prompt payments keep it logistically simple for the small core volunteer organizers. All of the projects that are accepted will get done during this year's "Village Building Convergence", May 29 - June 7.
In the past couple of months, I've heard of several great ideas for projects from various community members. All of them would qualify for the application, and potentially others that are also due in January.
- An outdoor clothes/blanket closet made of reclaimed materials (one exists in front of Community Supported Everything's Guild Hall on Alberta and 16th)
- An outdoor trash burner that produces clean gas (Community Supported Everything has a prototype)
- Benches, signage and fencing for an off-leash dog park area and community garden
- Alleyway beautification through vertical gardens, kinetic and visual art with pollinator habitat
- Wall murals on commercial buildings facing areas with pedestrian traffic
- New trash cans for Mississippi and Williams Avenues incorporating reclaimed materials
Other ideas from the VBC:
- Rain garden
- Pallet garden
- Cob bench
- Free library
- Mosaic wall
- Trumpet rain catchment
The Village Building Convergence isn't a grant - but we could pay for the project using grant money from somewhere else. These are the two opportunities that I know of:
The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) is also looking for grant applicants for projects that address watershed health and also meet community needs. Their pre-application is due Feb 6. Examples that could apply to our neighborhood would be alleyway cleanups, and planting in alleyways or dog park area.
The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods will also release their annual community grants on January 5, likely due in February. The recipients are always community-building projects, usually by established non-profits, usually including diversity outreach components.
I'm inspired. Now what?
If you are interested in working together with other community members to make one or more of these projects a reality, then let's do it! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will set up a meeting time where we can talk further about what projects we're most interested in and how we'll move forward to get our applications done.