Men, Better Neighbours than Friends?

One Man's Story about Fostering Community Connection

Howard Lawrence, the go-to-and-get-it-done guy when it comes to fixing neighbourhoods, reflects on his own way of connecting. When he is at home feeling isolated, he heads outside to see who is working on projects – fixing or building – and pitches in.

“The slow pace and the broad help-based nature of the neighbouring relationship seems to fit men better than the more intense emotionally focused nature of the current version of friendship. “When it comes to relational nutrients, friends and family are important but neighbours, for men, provide an often overlooked and important ingredient.”

Howard Lawrence is the thought leader and animator behind Abundant Community Edmonton where he is putting into action the ideas expressed in Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block. With their enthusiastic support he has developed a prototype project in Highlands his own neighbourhood.  The infrastructure of the program gives neighbours permission to connect with each other. The program involves paid and volunteer 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. 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.

Howard has seen dramatic things happen when community members (especially the unusual suspects) are invited to share their best hopes and dreams for the neighbourhood. The morning after he connected with Jo – a neighbourhood recluse with an alcohol dependency – Howard received a call from a pay phone. Jo wanted to meet and share his eight pages of handwritten ideas about how to make the community better. They ended up agreeing that Jo would help host the block party!

Howard states “There is a growing desire for the experience of community in neighbourhoods so this simple approach is attractive. People want permission to connect and a plan to follow that will move them toward making the vision of a unified community a reality. Many are looking toward the built form, hoping for bumping places in their hoods like coffee shops and pubs that will create connection with their neighbours.

“Our approach is attractive because we have a simple framework for pursuing neighbourly relationships without outside business or government. All you need is the support and encouragement of neighbourhood leadership.”

This model has been embraced by the City of Edmonton and they are supporting the further replication of it throughout Edmonton in collaboration with Community Leagues.

There are opportunities coming up in June to learn more about this model in Edmonton: an afternoon with Howard Lawrence and John McKnight on June 6, (contact and The Deepening Community Conference on June 7-9 hosted by the community of Tamarack.

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