Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
When this article popped up on my Facebook feed it immediately drew me in – 101 Small Ways You Can Improve Your City by Patrick Sisson and Alissa Walker. Sometimes when things seem so crazy out there in the world it’s nice to just think about your own community and what you can do to improve the lives of your neighbors.
The article has a lot of suggestions - one hundred and one to be exact - for improving your local community. I pulled out a few that relate to economic development that might work within your own community.
19. Don’t despair; depave. Working under the banner "free your soil," the Portland, Oregon-based group Depave has been kicking asphalt for a decades, turning unused parking and abandoned lots into community gardens and parks. If you discover an opportunity to literally reclaim your streets, the group has a guide on its website to help get started.
24. Turn a freeway overpass into a coworking hub. LA writer Kailee McGee was inspired to change up her work routine while on the road. Or more accurately, over the road. With the help of a handful of friends, McGee set up school desks on the apex of a pedestrian bridge over the 5 Freeway to create a pop-up, open-air coworking hub, complete with Wi-Fi and LaCroix (but of course). Nothing beats a change of perspective.
25. Network your alleys. Reinventing an alley can turn a dark, scary space into a vibrant place. An even better idea is to combine several alleys into a network of public spaces that stretch on for blocks. In Vancouver, the project More Awesome Now, is turning alleys (they call them laneways) into assets with basketball courts, foosball tables and shady cafes. And they’ll all be connected with a wayfinding system using bright paint and eye-catching graphics.
27. Create a community sign initiative. Many marquee streets in American cities share a certain edge, history, and a organic form of verbal branding that helps draw attention, pedestrians, and customers. The CoSign project in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood used visuals to makeover a neglected block, commissioning artists to transform staid storefronts with arresting, original signage. After redecorating another street in Covington, Kentucky, the project is poised to hang a shingle, so to speak, in cities nationwide.
31. Take over an empty storefront. Closed for business doesn’t need to mean closed from the community. Numerous neighborhood groups, artists, and local business groups have turned empty commercial spaces into canvases and economic catalysts. From Project Pop Up, which hosted an array of displays and shops in abandoned Pittsburgh Storefronts (some of which have become permanent tenants) to initiatives such as Chashama and SmartSpaces in New York, creatives are breathing new life into these underutilized spaces.
40. Give directions to your entire city. With a mission to get more "feet on the street," the Walk Your City project promotes more conversational, community-oriented wayfinding. Community groups can visit the site, create a set of custom signs (with messages such as "It’s a 2-minute walk to the library"), and get them shipped and ready to install. The concept has already played out in cities such as Mount Hope, West Virginia, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
73. Create a community guide to tactical urbanism. Turning DIY projects into long-term additions can feel like a regulatory and zoning obstacle course. Officials in Burlington, Vermont, mindful of their citizen’s commitment to community projects, drafted a Tactical Urbanism and Demonstration Projects Guide, making it easier to launch neighborhood projects or organize small-scale interventions, and giving active citizens a green light to experiment.
86. Brainstorm a community vision. Community planning discussions benefit from some levity, some understanding, and a lot of visual aids. The St. Paul, Minnesota-based Friendly Streets Initiative holds community visioning events that display large images of potential neighborhood improvements, asking neighbors to vote for their favorites via Post-It. It’s a quick, effective, and entertaining way to take the temperature of the neighborhood.
101. Vote. No excuses.
Take a read through the full article and let us know if any of these small steps are already happening in your community. I found that once I read the article I started recognizing the tips that were already happening here in Brattleboro, VT – like little free libraries (#4) community gardens (#96), community murals (#75) and reflection boards (#85) around town asking passersby to fill in the blank for “I am grateful for….” and “Before I die….” The reflection board pictured above is very close to my house and I smile every time I pass it - it's the little things.