In my first “Report From The Front Lines” post, I mentioned that a co-worker and I were planning to host a brown-bag lunch discussion on community and neighborhood resilience at our office. Last week we finally sent out an e-mail announcement, and today we actually did the discussion.
Eight people showed up, including me and my co-worker partner. We had a good time and discovered a rather deep well of interest among the other attendees. I began the discussion by stating that in this time of economic uncertainty it was necessary for each of us to begin building alternatives and safety nets to help cope with sudden adversity. I got a laugh out of everyone when I said, “Most of you who have had to endure my 'soapboxes' over the last year or so probably know where I think our economy is headed, and the reasons why. There are three possible responses to such a point of view: first, to plug one's ears while singing 'La, la, let's not think about that!'; second, to head for the hills with a stash of five tons of baked beans and five thousand rounds of ammo; or third, to reach out to one's neighbors to form a network of people who take care of each other.”
I talked also about the systems of a neighborhood, and how they break down under economic stress. Lastly, I defined resilience as the ability of a neighborhood to bounce back after a shock or stress. One of the other employees spoke up at this and mentioned the difference between the response of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the small communities in Iowa after the most recent flooding in that region, and how the Iowans had learned to be self-reliant and to help each other instead of waiting for the government to rescue them.
At this point my co-worker partner took over. He described how he himself had experienced adversity a few years ago due to a death in his family and a prolonged stretch of unemployment. He spoke of how he chose to make his needs known immediately to his neighbors, and how he was able to trade skills and manual labor for basic necessities. He also spoke of the need to spend the necessary time and effort to get to know neighbors and their needs, including volunteering to meet those needs as he is able. He lives in a neighborhood in which many of the homes are occupied by widows and the elderly.
This prompted me to mention a post by Sharon Astyk on her blog Casaubon's Book, titled, “The Party's Not Over – It's Just Getting Started!” (http://sharonastyk.com/2009/03/19/the-partys-not-over-it-is-just-getting-started/) That post talks about taking steps to forge community connections in one's own neighborhood. Since we had a laptop and a projector in our conference room, we all took a bit of time to peruse her post. We also discussed the optimum size of community circles.
We finished with a query of each of us as to how well we knew our neighbors. One other co-worker told the story of the neighbors of his cul-de-sac, who all know each other and who went out of their way to welcome him when he moved in. They went so far as to bring baked goods as a housewarming present, and to loan him a few air mattresses (without his asking first) when he had relatives over. They also have neighborhood showings of movies and have even volunteered to help each other with large house/yard projects, where during a particular year all the neighbors will go to one house and do something like removing a tree or a project of similar scope.
We had an extensive agenda of topics to cover, but our lunch hour was over before we could even finish discussing this first topic of establishing community connections. However, we plan to get together again in a few weeks to discuss other things, like building lending libraries of tools, community gardening, and swapping skills. I'm excited to think of where this discussion might go, and am itching to try a few things in my own neighborhood.