Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review - Neighbor Power

How did I get hooked on this book? I stopped at an information booth set up in the Giant Tiger parking lot. An invitation to help spend $10,000 caught my eye. The invitation came from the local Crime Council. I and a friend went to the meeting, and voila, we are board members. *sigh*. We were shown tons of resources and materials that I hardly knew of. Another invitation caught my eye:

Neighbourhood Engagement
People are the answer!
November 17, 2009 at Santa Maria Goretti Centre (11050‐90 Street)
5‐9 PM
A Light Supper will be provided. No Cost. Parking available .
Registration is required, seating is limited
Please call (780)442‐4972

I signed up for that. And I got to asking myself, who is this Jim Diers and what is this talk about Neighbour Power? So I got the book. I've just finished it. In all my wanderings, why am I pursuing this? Because my gut says that neighbourhood engagement builds genuine human interaction between those who need help and those who give it. I am wandering full circle back to the reason I started this blog in the first place. What follows are marked passages and my own comments from sections of this book.

"organizers organize organizations" - When inspiring change in a community, don't run the show. Listen. Otherwise the initiative is dependent on you. When you go, the reforms will go too. Empower people to bring about the changes they want.

"Asset Based Community Development - ...Government, like social service agencies and other institutions, tends to disempower communities by focusing on their deficiencies and fostering dependence on outside interventions. Asset-based community development, on the other hand, builds on the resources that are found in every community. These assets include a community's associations and all its members, even those members who have been labeled and dismissed: the disabled, welfare mothers, at-risk youth, and elderly; all persons of every description have skills, knowledge, and passion to contribute to their community. (p. 13)" This sets me to wondering; what assets do we have in Clareview? We definitely have families, sports parents, ethnic, immigrant communities, at-home seniors. I've just discovered that we have a strong interest in city farming. It would be great to build an inventory of assets. For further reading, I should check out the Asset-Based Community Development Institute (ABCD, get it?).

[Local governments]...resources are not keeping pace with increasingly complex social issues...voters are reluctant to approve additional resources becasue they feel a sense of alienation from their government at all levels...this deep sense of alienation is often misdiagnosed as apathy....Citizens don't vote becasue they have seen little evidence that their votes matter....I am convinced that people still yearn for a sense of community and want to contribute to the greater [has to do] with rediscovering democracy. (p. 18, 19) Now this resonates with me. Much is ballyhooed in the press about Canadian apathy at the pollls. If politicians want to see greater voter turnout, more work has to be done between elections to convince citizens that their involvement counts. It seems to me that this strikes closest to home, close to home. This means potholes, graffitti, community revitalization. This means listening and engaging people in a meaningful way. No lip service.

Whose decision was it to treat the community of Southeast Seattle as second class?..We discussed the growing drug and gang problem and concluded that the city had already tried nearly every solution that money could buy. Affordable housing was amajor neighborhood issue, but there was little the city could do, especially when the state legislature had outlawed rent control. Likewise, the city had no jurisdiction over the schools...Traffic congestion and inadequate parking were equally perplexing. I quickly realized that public officials felt as powerless to address these issues as did the citizens (p. 27). Again, resonating. Which takes us back to the foundation of the book; asset based community development. Any one of us can be terrified in to inaction when trying to handle the beast that is bureaucracy. Instead of focusing on the failures, however, why not take an inventory of our assets and build from those?

McKnight told me about his friend who is a duck hunter. The friend has different kinds of calls for different kinds of ducks. Organizations, McKnight said, should do the same thing, adding that "too often the only call that organizations use is the loon call, and then they wonder why only the loons turn out for the meetings." For organizers, as for duck hunters, a variety of calls is essential. Some people will answer the call to rally around a particular issue. Some will turn out for work parties or to pitch in on a particular project in their neighborhood. Others will be attracted by a dance or a festival or by freshly baked brownies. The more calls an organization uses, the more broadly based its membership will be. And the more broadly based the membership, the more power the organization will have to address whatever issues matter most to its members. I knew it. Bring food. I wonder, what is with all these afternoon meetings? Are working people excluded? Perhaps for the Clareview Crime Council sake, we need to team up with other groups in our community to get a broader based plan on how to spend the $10,000. Maybe we need a party, and everyone is invited.