During July 07, Seattle’s Jim Diers, author of Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way ran some inspirational workshops for communities and groups in Victoria, NSW, Western Australia and New Zealand…reported in the Bank of I.D.E.A.S. (Initiatives for the Development of Enterprising Actions & Strategies) September Newsletter.
Guided by detailed program descriptions in Neighbor Power, dozens of cities throughout North America and elsewhere are now engaged in similar community building efforts…PWF has written about Victoria’s Lighthouse Program – inspired by Seattle - Community Wellbeing…Councils Working WITH Ratepayers and PWF has also written – enthusiastically – about the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) network which has strong roots in Seattle…so-o-o good to see participatory/deliberative democracy working towards a sustainable future.
Jim’s workshops focussed on his five ways of effectively engaging communities:
- Have fun
- Start where people are at
- Focus on assets not needs
- Celebrate success – Share stories.
Communities CAN influence the actions of government, developers…
Jim believes neighbors can generate tremendous power when they come together as a community, mobilising their own assets—their passion, knowledge, skills, and relationships—in support of caring communities, revitalized neighborhoods, and a better world. He uses Alinsky-style community organising…
WHAT is Alinsky-style community organizing?
Experienced in labor organizing and trained in sociology, Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), inspired the community organizing movement in the United States.
Backed by the Roman Catholic Church and its advocacy for social activism, Saul created grassroots organizations led by local people with the goal of combating government bureaucracies or businesses or other powers unresponsive to local concerns.
In this approach the organiser does not assume leadership of community organizations. He or she might inspire local communities to action, but the organiser’s real job is to identify leaders who can direct the community organizations, so that communities themselves can truly determine their own direction.
The Alinsky maxim “Never do for the people what they can do for themselves” is not identified with socialist thought nor the ‘New Left’ of the 1960s. The background philosophy is a profound faith in the democratic abilities of local communities to control their destiny. ie when local communities themselves address their problems, social justice and true democracy are realised.
Neighbor Power, the book, says participatory democracy is possible
Jim chronicles how Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods has involved tens of thousands of neighbors in the development of scores of community-driven plans and 3,000 neighborhood self-help projects. The book gives hope that participatory democracy is possible and:
- it offers practical applications and invaluable lessons for ordinary, caring neighbors who want to make a difference;
- it also provides government officials with inspiring stories and proven programs to help them embrace neighborhood activists as true partners.
About the Book
Neighbor Power describes Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods and its bold experiments in bottom-up neighborhood planning and development.
- The Neighborhood Matching Fund has more than doubled the City’s $45 million investment while involving tens of thousands of volunteers in completing more than 3,000 community-initiated projects since 1989.
- The Neighborhood Planning Program enabled neighborhoods to hire their own consultants and involved 30,000 people in developing 37 neighborhood plans between 1996 and 1999. Citizens subsequently voted for $470 million in new taxes to help implement those plans.
- The P-Patch Program enables 5,000 people to cultivate 72 community gardens, donating 10 tons of organic produce to food banks each year.
- Involving All Neighbors brings persons with developmental disabilities and other marginalized people into community life by focusing on their assets.
Neighbor Power also describes the Department of Neighborhoods’ 13 Little City Halls, Neighborhood Leadership Program, and Neighbor Appreciation Day. Each chapter features stories and photographs illustrating how communities have used these programs to produce their own innovations. For example:
- The Fremont community built a gigantic troll under a bridge as a solution to problems with illegal dumping.
- When Columbia City storefronts were vacant, community members painted murals on the boarded-up doors and windows to make it appear as if real businesses were inside.
- Rain run-off from the roofs of downtown buildings is being harvested and naturally filtered for use in irrigating community gardens.
- A community-owned bicycle shop is teaching youth how to repair used bicycles that are then donated to foster children, homeless adults, and people in Ghana.
- Refugees from five ethnic groups that are warring with one another in East Africa are operating a computer center together.
Civic Leaders Praise Neighbor Power
“One of the most hopeful signs for the revitalization of American cities and indeed for the rejuvenation of American democracy is the neighborhood movement which is sweeping communities across America. Jim Diers has chronicled the vigorous debates which accompanied the blossoming of neighborhood power in Seattle. The neighborhood movement in Seattle not only helped cement that city’s reputation as one of the most beautiful and civically minded cities in America, but has provided an example for local leaders across the nation.”
—Henry G. Cisneros, former Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
“Jim Diers was the Pied Piper for the Seattle neighborhood movement, which built a national and international reputation for its new approach to planning, giving real meaning to the slogan, ‘Power to the People.’ In describing the potential for this approach to revitalize our cities, his writing is a must-read for citizen activists, urban planners, and elected officials.”
—Paul Schell, former mayor of Seattle
“Some writers talk about democracy, but Jim Diers has done it. Here he gracefully shares his invaluable experience, proving that democracy is not something done to us or for us, it’s what we ourselves do to create communities that work for all. Neighbor Power is rich in lessons that any community can apply. An antidote to despair—a must read in trying times!”
—Frances Moore Lappé, author of Democracy’s Edge and Diet for a Small Planet