The Abundant Community Initiative is catching on, with municipalities across North America expressing interest in connecting neighbours.
Howard Lawrence, co-founder of the Asset-Based Neighbourhood Organizing Association, says many cities have a long-standing relationship with Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and the Abundant Community Initiative is a new version that drills down onto every block in every neighbourhood.
“We can say to municipalities, ‘you’ve been doing this kind of work, particularly in troubled neighbourhoods, for 30 years . . . here is an update,’” Lawrence says.
The Abundant Community Initiative engages someone on each neighbourhood block – called a Block Connector – who connects with each household on their block about their neighbours’ vision for the neighbourhood, their skills and interests, community and life on the block and engagement in the neighbourhood.
A Neighbourhood Connector is hired to identify, enlist and organize Block Connectors, encourage the Block Connectors and collate the information into vision, priorities, activity groups and experience exchange.
Peter Block, co-author of The Abundant Community, said in a statement the work of the Abundant Community Initiative is “vital to the well-being of our cities.”
“Every city is concerned about our health, children, safety, the land, the local economy and those on the margins. Government policies and social services are at their limits. The next wave of the impact will come from citizens connected to their neighbours engaged in bringing their gifts and humanity to each other,” Block states.
There are many ways a Block Connector brings value to municipalities including: less need for by-law enforcement as neighbours solve their disagreements, seniors experience less isolation, people who have a disability are included, safety increases as crime decreases, youth find mentoring relationships, disaster preparedness increases, neighbours experience better mental health, reduced poverty and localism is fostered reducing environmental footprint.
In addition, when a neighbourhood block is connected there are many benefits including residents being less likely to move and experience an increase in recreation through accessible and impromptu opportunities. When neighbourhoods are “the villages” people can look out for one another and receive the care they need. Neighbours can also increase health through being a social support network.
Lawrence is activating the Abundant Community Initiative in his own neighbourhood through Abundant Community Edmonton (ACE). The City of Edmonton is sponsoring the project.
“Most neighbourhood initiatives spring from the faith community or foundations. This link to government has the potential to bind the neighbourhood to the public sphere in a special way,” Block said.
Lawrence notes he has found this to be true – through working with the city there is added legitimacy to ACE, as well as the support of his contract and staff who will be doing community building through the initiative’s framework.
When Lawrence hears from an NGO or group who want to spark the initiative in their city or town he tells them to first speak with an elected official or senior staff person with the municipality.