The Powerful Attraction of New Possibilities

Compelling New Thinking about Neighbourhoods

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NewScoop has been following the work of CDLI and Abundant Communities Edmonton and was intrigued to see the two come together at the recent Big Meet Up on November 5.  Please check out our previous stories on the Abundant Communities Edmonton initiative,  Men, Better Neighbours Than Friends  and The Abundant Community Initiative 

It felt like watching a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis or at least how I imagine such an experience! Such was the nature of my conversation with Abbas Mancey about the Big Meet Up on November 5, hosted by the Community Development Learning Initiative.

Abbas is the representative facilitator of this collaboration and takes seriously the mandate of this group, to see Community Development make a significant impact on sticky social issues such as poverty, isolation and family violence. The Big Meet Up is a yearly event that brings together community development practitioners,residents, community leaders, students and other individuals in Calgary and is designed and organized by the current CDLI Steering Committee:  Carya, United Way, Women’s Centre, City of Calgary, Calgary Federation of Communities, Cafe Institute, Ethnocultural Council of Calgary and the Calgary Foundation.

As Abbas reflected on such serious social problems, he noted that there seems to be a number of approaches to social challenges. First, there is the activist approach, which sees social problems as the result of bad policy and improvement made by advocating for the government (and those in power) to do the right thing with its levers – collecting taxes and distributing resources directly and through programs, policies and regulations. Then there is the social worker approach, which believes that we can move the dial on social challenges if we have the right levers including effective, facilitated programs and services.

A third way, which Howard Lawrence from Abundant Communities Edmonton presented at the Big Meet Up, is the way of neighbour helping neighbour.  The infrastructure of the program gives neighbours permission to connect with each other.  The Neighbourhood Connectors coordinate Block Connectors in one-on-one connecting with neighbours in their immediate vicinity as a prequel to neighbourhood social events such as block parties. The program involves paid Neighbourhood Connectors and volunteer Block Connectors using questionnaires that have the dual purpose of gathering data for a neighbourhood database while also giving people permission to have conversations with each other.

Now, we all know that a three-legged stool is more stable than each leg on its own, so these three approaches are not mutually exclusive. The idea that attracts Abbas, like a moth to the porch light, or perhaps more sustainably,  a butterfly to brightly coloured flowers (red, yellow, purple and orange are their top picks!), is the possibility that serious social problems can be ameliorated by activating neighbourhoods and unfettering the neighbours who live there.

Wow, now that is a paradigm shift! Imagine a neighbourhood where neighbours know each other and actually connect and care for each other.

Imagine kitchen tables where job search ideas are brainstormed over tea, or where moms with teenagers in an evermore cannabis-friendly world find toeholds on the steep climb to safely launched young folk. Imagine a street where the early-retired guy gives his long time retired neighbour a ride to a medical appointment.

Equally, if not more importantly, where neighbours play and eat together at progressive dinners, house concerts, Friday night pizza parties, and front yard BBQs.  Is this some utopic vision or hazy memory of a golden age?

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NewScoop is entertaining the possibility that, within our midst, within our place-based communities, we have the possibility of transformative connections resulting in tangible improvements in many domains… economic, social and health, not to mention the environment that sustains our living!

We invite you to join us as we share stories of Calgary neighbourhoods where connection is flourishing, and as we host events to empower us on this journey of discovery.

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