Thursday, May 4, 2017

First Kind Communities Models

When we launched our Kind Communities program at the start of this year, we knew it would be a long haul. Researching and capturing elements that lead to kindness in communities could be a rather nebulous target to reach for. With the status quo to displace people in favor of profitable projects and to level old neighborhoods to build speedways, talking about kind places was sure to bring only blank stares.

Wrong! I have been thrilled by the response. Nearly everyone I have spoken to about Kind Communities gets it. They have either lived in such a place and miss it terribly or they have been angered by the lack of kindness in their own communities and have envisioned similar changes. A common comment is that few people talk to each other anymore, not even neighbors. Others note the loneliness of living in isolated places where houses are far apart and driving is the only way to reach community services.

During my recent trip to Washington, D.C., I met with staff at the nonprofit development firm Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC). A few minutes into my introduction to our program, they jumped in to tell me about the success they’d had at one of their affordable housing projects—Edgewood Commons. After a horrible murder, CPDC took the opposite approach from the normal lock down. They engaged the tenants as experts for solving their community's problems.

Two years later, they have dozens of active tenant groups teaching classes, starting businesses, and keeping their community safe. They captured their success in this white paper including the steps they took to engage residents. CPDC is also looking at ways to bring similar processes to their other developments in the D.C. area, including bicycle initiatives so residents can obtain their own bicycle as well as career training in bicycle businesses. Can you imagine how excited I was to connect with them?

After that meeting and follow up calls, I convinced myself that CPDC is a special case and to lower my expectations again. Then I asked a Japanese friend who lives here in Prescott, whether he had any connections in Okinawa. Okinawa had made our list of potential models because citizens control the economy through local trade and their culture is to take care of each other. Within a few days, we were sitting down with Mitsuko, a friend of his who is from Okinawa and now living in Prescott.

I couldn’t take notes fast enough to capture her explanations on how the Okinawan people developed their kind culture and have preserved it through too many forced take overs by foreign nations, including the U.S. until 1972. Now, though Okinawans’ ancestors have closer ties to China and Indonesia, the ruling government of Okinawa is Japan, and the U.S. still has tens of thousands of military personnel on bases there. Through all this, including unimaginable horrors during World War II, they have preserved their culture of kindness toward everyone. I will meet with Mitsuko again this weekend to continue our discussion. She’s so excited about our Kind Communities program that she has offered to help me connect to more models around the world.

Now I can’t help but look at our list of potential models with a sense of excitement for what I will discover next. Here are the next likely for my outreach:

·         Nantes, France –focus on fun, citizen engagement, and honesty about their past. Video from Velo-city 2015: https://vimeo.com/97097924
·         Paqueta island in Rio de Janiero. Brazil – funny video of bicycles and car-free island: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0C4lNCLcfa8
·         Worcester, Vermont – citizen-led, community lunches every Wednesday, central gathering place, online forum for sharing things, community pride. 1,000 population.
·         Villages and tribes that are unlikely to identify themselves as anything special. I’ve got some calls in to our local tribe here in Prescott.

I also have my eye on communities that seem to be trying to rebuild into kind communities, either after disasters or simply to recapture a sense of community they once had. Here are some from that list:

·         Christchurch, New Zealand - http://www.regeneratechristchurch.nz/ Earthquakes hit in 2010 and 2011. Started this entity in 2016.
·         Greensburg, Kansas – called their rebuilding after the 2011 tornado “green” and focused on energy-efficient buildings. Now locals are grumbling, but there still seems to have pride in their effort - http://www.npr.org/2014/04/29/307913565/kansas-town-destroyed-by-tornado-spreads-blame-for-lack-of-growth
·         Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada – efforts at engaging local artists and business owners: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/09/zappos-ceo-tony-hsieh-what-i-regret-about-pouring-350-million-into-las-vegas.html oddly begun by the millionaire CEO of Zappos.
·         Key West, Florida – seems to be a kind community, residents trying to organize to stop reckless developers and preserve old community including affordable housing and bicycle access.

We’re looking for more potential models to add to our list so we’ll have a broad range to learn from as we compile case studies and resources to help all of you shift your own communities back toward kindness. Here is our current list of criteria (sure to be refined as we move forward):

  • Residents feel secure and affordable housing is not threatened;
  • Well-used community center including workshops with tools to share and classes led by residents;
  • Improvements, projects, and activities organized by residents;
  • Businesses owned and operated by residents (few if any outside chains), most necessities served (grocery, hardware, clothing, staples, etc.), social enterprise?:
  • No charity services;
  • Residents care for each other, none marginalized;
  • Community goals and changes serve as many residents as possible, especially those near the margins, without doing any residents harm;
  • Streets are all traffic calmed with pedestrians and bicyclists prioritized;
  • Easy access to affordable transportation, especially bicycles, bikeways, and affordable bicycle repair.

As you can see from our Kind Communities webpage, we believe that such a backdrop of kindness will enable significant improvements for bicycling, for everyone, no matter their ability, age, or income level.

Do you know of a kind community that could be a model for this program? If so, please offer it in the comments section.

Sue

4 comments:

  1. WOW What a project! An amazing approach to a core problem. All the best to all. Sue is a world changer. Thank You Sue

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  2. Hey thanks! Be sure to share any examples if come upon any.

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  3. I'm in awe. More power to you and the people who work with you, Sue.

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