When Christina Ashley bought her first home in Long Beach, California a year ago, one of her desires was to have close relationships with her neighbours. She heard about a unique neighbourhood-connecting event, the Citywide Pumpkin Party, held each fall, and decided to partner with her neighbours next door to host one in their front yard.
About 40 of her block neighbours came to the pumpkin party. Most had never met each other. It was the first time anyone could remember having a block party.
|“We believe that connected neighbours are the key to creating safer, healthier, and happy communities.”
— Scott Jones
The neighbours loved the idea so much seven of them have now hosted events in their own front yards.
Since moving to the area, Christina has established relationships with more than 80 per cent of her neighbours. Her interactions range from taking an older neighbour to the doctor to having a free book swap in her front yard.
Scott M. Jones shares Christina’s story as one of his favourite examples of what’s possible when people are inspired and equipped to connect and enliven their neighbourhoods.
Scott is the co-founder and executive director of a non-profit organization, We Love Long Beach, energized by that very mission — to inspire and equip neighbours to connect.
Launched seven years ago, We Love Long Beach originally generated ideas for neighbourhood-connecting events — such as free neighbourhood breakfasts — and then doing all the work to make them happen. But the team’s eventual exhaustion led to the “a-ha” that something had to change.
Today, the organization creates ways for people to take ownership of their own neighbourhood-connecting events.
It still acts as somewhat of a leader in that it creates the ideas for the events as well produces a bunch of the material required to make them happen. But the intention is to work with and support people who are inspired to connect their own neighbourhoods, rather than doing all the work for them.
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|One of the sites of an annual fall Citywide Pumpkin Party in Long Beach. Photo courtesy We Love Long Beach.|
In the summer of 2014, We Love Long Beach launched its first annual Citywide Ice Cream Social. People were invited to host the ice cream event on their block with their neighbours for the purpose of getting to know one another. We Love Long Beach created a flyer for the event that the host could use to go door to door to invite neighbours, and to ask them to bring some ice cream with them to share. We Love Long Beach also created Citywide Ice Cream Social yard signs that hosts placed on the corners of their block to further promote the event.
The first Citywide Ice Cream Social had 31 locations around the city participate. In just one Citywide Ice Cream Social there were more locations that day in June than the organization had hosted in the five years prior with its 25 free breakfasts.
A key strength of the current We Love Long Beach approach is that it is sustainable. This sustainability is produced in four ways as the organization’s efforts are:
- Limited in scope: The organization focuses on four citywide events a year instead of the 20 it had been aiming for previously, Scott says.
- Authentic: The events are produced by resident leaders who are energized to enliven their neighborhoods. “We refer to them as Block Leaders,” Scott notes, adding We Love Long Beach aims to remove barriers to entry by providing a Block Leader’s Packet for each event — a collection of items such as an orientation/recommendations sheet, name badges, event signage, and a thank-you gift. To provide further encouragement, each event is followed by a gathering of the Block Leaders to celebrate their events, exchange best practices and voice any challenges during the experience.”
- Accessible: The events are open to all, regardless of social status or other distinctions.
- Repeatable: “Our events have the simple purpose of giving neighbors an opportunity to meet one another and building on-going relationships.”
Imagining a further evolution of the organization’s approach, Scott says a coming iteration will centre on revealing the untapped gifts, talents, and resources of residents on each block.
“We see ourselves in a continued partnership with our Block Leaders to facilitate the transition from identifying their gifts and talents, to giving, receiving and reciprocating those gifts and talents with their neighbors,” he says.
“This transition will produce resident-led associations, groups, clubs, etc. with the potential to sustainably improve the quality of life for neighbours on every block in our city.
“We expect to see thousands of events across the city that lead residents into meaningful, ongoing relationships with neighbours on their block. We believe that connected neighbours are the key to creating safer, healthier, and happy communities.”
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