Self-help civic initiatives in DC, Mount Rainier, MD, Ysilanti, MI, and Brookings, SD
People from other countries frequently comment about how the civil society in the US is so much more vibrant than in their own countries--even as we are experiencing a serious decline in civic participation--voting, reading newspapers, participating in local organizations, etc.
On the other hand, opposition to the growth of "big government" comes in part out of the recognition that it reduces civic impulses.
You see this in DC especially. My joke is that "big government--the federal government--trickles down and shapes little--local--government in its image." Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are both a benefit and a bane to local participation. It's great that neighborhoods have a right to weigh in on matters before DC government through ANCs. On the other hand, people end up believing that even the minutest matters have to be taken care of by government rather than ourselves.
But DC has a couple of interesting civic initiatives underweigh that are a kind of government-civic partnership.
Love Your Block DC, a program by the Serve DC volunteer unit of the Executive Branch, offers grants of up to $1,000 to support independent civic initiatives focused on micro-neighborhood improvements.
Unfortunately, they don't make a downloadable application fully available--it's set up to be read and filled out page-by-page online and you can't read the whole thing first. So I can't tell you the application due date.
(P.S. one of my examples about re-figuring how city offices ostensibly focused on engaging with the public is the Serve DC program. I think offices like this should be based in the Main Branch of the Central Library, and open on those hours, rather than more traditional "business" hours, and located in less accessible government buildings.)
2. I have been remiss in not writing about the Age-Friendly DC Block by Block Walk initiative. Trainings preceded the March 20th launch of the program, which lasts til the end of the month. The intent is to walk every block in the city " to help identify neighborhood assets and issues needing attention, particularly through the lens of residents, workers, and visitors 60 and older."
Systematic neighborhood engagement").
And it's the flip side of a point made in Safe Routes to Schools programs (and in my entry "Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community") that these programs of developing and promoting safe walking routes benefit all residents, not just schoolchildren.
I think about these issues more and more as I age, don't see as well, don't hear as well (yes, young'uns, it will happen to you too, soon enough you realize that you are not perpetually 18 years of age). I think about it a lot vis-a-vis Suzanne's parents, when we take them on transit or watch them drive in areas they are unfamiliar with. So this is an important initiative too.
... but I doubt this initiative will do separate day time and night time walks.
3. And then there are some interesting projects locally and elsewhere, which also exemplify civic initiative, some involving local government and some not.
In Ypsilanti, Michigan (it's next to Ann Arbor), the "Paint Ypsilanti" project ("Paint Ypsilanti project looking to expand after successful launch," Ypsilanti Courier) is not unlike Rebuilding Together's focus on housing improvement and repair for low income households or the HGTV show "Curb Appeal: The Block," where they fix up a house on a block but then also do some other smaller for other houses on the same block, to maximize the impact.
From the website:
"Paint Ypsilanti is founded on the simple premise that we want to increase the vibrancy of our neighborhoods by providing assistance to residents unable to keep up financially and/or physically with the maintenance for their homes. After completing a successful pilot project in 2013, the program has plans to expand and hopes to provide paint, landscaping materials and labor for 20 project recipients in 2014."In Brookings, South Dakota, presentation consultant Robert Yapp is leading three different workshops (painting historic houses, exterior wood repair, window repair and weatherization) that involve fixing up particular houses as a form of training--I expect that the buildings getting the extra attention are owned by people of limited means.
See the press release, "BOB YAPP HISTORIC PRESERVATION WORKSHOPS - May 1-3, 2014," from the city website. Brookings has a strong historic preservation and Main Street commercial district revitalization programs, which are about promoting civic health as well as economic development.
Note that these kinds of programs exemplify the point made by Rolf Goetze in Building Neighborhood Confidence that the point of government assistance for community development and revitalization isn't to make the residents dependent on the municipality, it's to provide a push and confirm to people that the community is worth staying in and investing in.
4. Locally, Mount Rainer, Maryland is sponsoring their annual "Better Block" initiative, on Friday April 25th. From the press release:
April 25th from 6 – 10 pm, the Mount Rainier Circle and intersecting streets of Rhode Island Avenue and 34th street will come alive for one evening of music, workshops, parade, performances, open studios, arts activities, and more. This year, creative placemaking activities will feature Lesole’s Dance Project, Urban Eats Arts and Music Café, Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio, Beloved Community Mosaics, artist Kenny George and Patrick McDonough’s Chard/Hops spot, a Hoop Jam by Noelle Powers to the body rollin’ tunes of BOOMscat, an open studio at Ani Kasten Ceramics, a pop-up exhibition by Krista Schlyer and family crafts with Community Forklift.For more information:
-- Art Lives Here placemaking initiative
-- Gateway Arts District, in Mount Rainier, Brentwood, North Brentwood, Hyattsville, Maryland