What we’ve learned in “Phase 0”

We suspect a very small number of people are reading this right now. If you are, you probably live in a city where ioby has an on-the-ground staff person or you are likely one of ioby’s peer organizations who have over the years asked if we would release all our “Phase 0” reports publicly. So, we went back to all the people who we interviewed to produce these reports, and asked their permission to include their quotes in these now publicly available documents.

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What is Phase 0?

Our Phase 0 research is designed to help us understand if ioby’s unique structure as a mission-driven nonprofit crowdfunding platform with wrap-around services like fiscal sponsorship, implementation support and on-the-ground organizers — can support grassroots work a particular city. Before we begin a Phase 0, we make sure that a city meets our minimum requirements for fit, which are:

  • History of neighborhood disinvestment (things like redlining, long-term population loss, mid-century urban renewal projects that resulted in social upheaval, or concentrations of high structural unemployment);
  • People of color make up more than a third of the population;
  • City leaders—in government, philanthropy and the social sector—are interested in taking an innovative approach to supporting community-led and place-based projects;
  • City leaders value authentic civic engagement, and are interested in building leadership capacity within communities;
  • City leaders are interested in achieving and measuring social, economic and public health outcomes as components of a long-term vision for sustainability; We are particularly interested in working with cities that have stated goals of fighting public health epidemics , strengthening sharing economies, and promoting social and environmental justice.

 

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[A 1937 Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) map of the Pittsburgh metropolitan region. The areas shaded in red are “fourth grade,” or “red-lined,” indicating to lenders that mortgages written for homes in these areas are hazardous and should be avoided.]

 

Once we know that a city meets these criteria, we use research and interviews to find if a city has our eight primary predictors of success (more on what we look for is in this previous blog post). We talk to leaders from the public sector, community-based organizations, citywide technical assistance providers, block clubs and unincorporated groups, among others. Basically, we’re trying to determine whether ioby’s services will be useful to residents in the context of their civic landscape, and how we can craft an approach that supports and amplifies, rather than duplicates or undermines, grassroots efforts that are already on the ground.

 

A process of learning

The research is conducted by ioby staff, based in Brooklyn, NY, and typically takes at least six months. One of the most humbling things about this research is how the reports barely scrape the surface of understanding what is truly happening at the neighborhood level. For example, one of our predictors has to do with attachment, which we can see indicated in many ways. One way is through expressions of “neighborhood pride.” In cities where there has been rapid population loss and gentrification, neighborhoods quickly go through name changes, and it’s hard to see attachment to place, when the very ‘place’ we refer to is being re-negotiated by long-time  residents and newer residents.

 

 

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[Above: Percentage or residents in Pittsburgh living in poverty, by census tract. Below: Percentage of charitable giving by income in Pittsburgh.]

 

After finishing five Phase 0 reports, it’s interesting to compare cities and see patterns, like the correlation between low-income residents and high rates of personal giving. After having worked in several cities for awhile now, it’s also interesting to go deeper on comparisons that might stop at the surface, for example, drawing similarities between two predominantly Black cities with high rates of vacancy in the urban core — like Detroit and Cleveland — fails to acknowledge the way social structures make two such cities very different.

 

The reports (PDFs)

Detroit (part 1 and part 2)

Cleveland

Pittsburgh

Washington, DC

Akron

(We conducted Memphis Phase 0, but a lot less formally, and it was never written up.)

 

Phase 0 has been, for us, a crucial process of learning that has informed how we move forward in different cities. Our Phase 0 research in Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh led directly to our hiring local Action Strategists in those cities, and we are working toward next steps in Akron and Washington, DC.

Please share your thoughts with us by emailing Erin Barnes, ioby’s co-founder and Executive Director, and David Weinberger, City Partnerships Director, at  erin@ioby.org and david@ioby.org.

 

Civic Crowdfunding for Trust and Resilience

ioby has worked with over 1,200 civic groups to raise more than $3.6 million dollars in citizen philanthropy for positive community projects. We enable and lift up leaders who are working to make their neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable. ioby leaders fund and create public art, gardens, small business cooperatives, bike infrastructure, public health campaigns, new classroom materials, and more. Often, a local government agency will assist members of the community as they set out to take on projects that align with a long-term plan related to sustainability, public health, or resilience.

 

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[Image: Georgia’s first urban Agri-hood]

 

The importance of quick wins

What makes residents want to do this work? More often than not, they are motivated by the promise of a quick win.

Quick wins are powerful. Ideas like “Tactical Urbanism” and “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” stress the significance of small, short-term projects to moving the needle on important policy or planning issues. From a temporary installation of a crosswalk flag system to help families cross a busy intersection, to a pop-up bus shelter designed by commuters who want some shade and benches while they wait, these small projects with short fundraising timelines and rapid implementation schedules are changing public dialogue about what’s possible in our cities.

A successfully crowdfunded project helps residents see themselves not as passive stakeholders, but as active participants, in the future of their neighborhoods. Being part of a tangible, positive project, even if it’s a temporary pilot, shows residents that they are capable of leading change in their own community, and that their dreams of a sustainable, more resilient, beautiful, green, or equitable community are within reach. Maybe most importantly for the future of civic life in cities, quick wins inspire more would-be leaders to take the first step toward being more civically engaged.

 

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[Image: Bus Stop Moves]

 

The need for community trust

But what makes governments want to work with community leaders to get their ideas funded and resourced? A big factor is trust. It’s a tricky thing to measure, but the trust of residents is among a government’s most important assets. It’s a condition for a healthy democracy.

Over the past half-century, fewer and fewer citizens say they trust the government to do its job. In 1958, the Pew Research Center found that about 73% of citizens stated that they trust the government always or most of the time. Almost sixty years later, in 2017, that number is at about 20%. In cities, planning processes that are opaque and top-down  not only breed distrust, but also create conflicts that undermine implementation and reduce the chances that a community will steward a civic good in the long term.

 

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[Image: Crosswalk Flags]

Distrust can be downright dangerous; when residents don’t trust their governments, they don’t feel compelled to heed emergency warnings or learn the roles and functions of institutions that are set up to help them in times of crisis — personal, financial, climate, or otherwise. This puts a considerable strain on government in times of citywide crisis or catastrophe, when virtually every resident of the city is suddenly looking to government for relief.

According to researchers at the University of Southern California, governments looking to build trust with residents need to work with citizen groups, be intentional about addressing specific problems in their delivery of services, and share power and authority with the residents they serve.

Employing these strategies, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) worked with ioby in 2016 to build trusting relationships with residents in a neighborhood where residents have historically been disconnected from planning processes.

 

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[Image:  NYC DOT’s 2016 Livonia Avenue El-Space Challenge]

Using civic crowdfunding to move a plan into action

In their 2015 publication, Under the Elevated, NYC DOT and the Design Trust for Public Space set out to tackle a discrete problem: the city’s hundreds of miles of elevated infrastructure—highways, bridges, and rails—leave residual spaces below. Called “el-spaces,” these stretches of the public right-of-way are often dark, noisy, desolate, and stay unactivated. Dividing neighborhoods, they function as barriers in several of the city’s most heavily disinvested communities.

DOT recognized a particular urgency for el-space intervention in Brownsville, a majority Black neighborhood that has experienced decades of public and private disinvestment. They decided to focus their efforts in the short-term on improving public spaces along Livonia Avenue, where the subway tracks above cast a long shadow that bisects the neighborhood.

Rather than come to the neighborhood with a set of expectations, DOT set out to understand how Brownsville might address the problems associated with this el-space. DOT came to Brownsville with a three-part challenge: tell us what you think should happen under the tracks on Livonia, fundraise quickly for your project on ioby’s crowdfunding platform, and we’ll work in full and equal partnership with you to bring your idea to life.

DOT offered a three-to-one match, quadrupaling every dollar that each group raised. Groups raised close to $11,000 from over 70 donors from the neighborhood and beyond. The City matched with about $33,000 from the DOT, demonstrating that the City was ready to invest in the good ideas of people who live in Brownsville.

Through this partnership with ioby, DOT funded four community-led projects, built trusting and lasting relationships with local leaders in the area, and arrived at a better understanding of residents’ needs and priorities.

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[Image:  Make Music Brownsville]

 

Not just collaboration, co-production

Several studies have suggested that there’s a causal relationship between citizen participation in governance and an increase in trust in government (Brehm & Rahn 1997; Keele 2007; Tampubolon 2010). In other words, governments that involve residents in solving problems tend to have the trust of the people they serve.

But there’s more: involving citizens in decision-making at the local level helps governments achieve better outcomes, which, in turn, go a long way to reinforcing the trust of residents in government’s ability to make change. In other words, encouraging community participation initiates a virtuous cycle that bolsters trust and community resilience in the long term.

Over time, governments have looked more seriously at co-production as a powerful force for getting projects installed and properly maintained, and for building trust with their constituents. First coined in 1978 by the public administration theorist Elinor Ostrum, the idea of “co-production” describes a model in which both government and an affected community share responsibility for producing a public good or service. Because residents are involved in scoping, developing, and maintaining it, a coproduced public good is responsive and tailored neatly to the need of an affected community.

 

The community that crowdfunds together

While NYC DOT did not set out to explicitly tackle community resilience in their Under the Elevated work, they listened and invested in grassroots leadership in ways that made the community stronger and the government more able to respond to residents’ needs and wants.

ioby is still exploring the many ways in which our work makes vulnerable communities stronger and more able to recover from shocks and strains caused by disaster and hardship. But the successes of our partnerships with NYC DOT and other municipal government agencies nationwide suggest that civic crowdfunding based in a resident-centered approach to creating and funding neighborhood projects—can be a powerful way for the public sector to bolster trust, civic participation, and community resilience.

Governments concerned with improving a neighborhood’s ability to respond to an emergency must cultivate an active citizenry, demonstrate its trust in community leadership, and learn about the needs and concerns of residents. A civic crowdfunding partnership with ioby, coupled with a commitment to coproducing goods and services with residents, is a great place to start.

If you work in the public sector and are interested in discussing some ways to harness the power of civic crowdfunding for your city, town, or county, please go to ioby.org/gov and email David Weinberger, City Partnerships Director, at david@ioby.org.

 

References

Brehm J, Rahn W. (1997) “Individual-level evidence for the causes and consequences of social capital.” American Journal of Political Science. Vol.41:999- 1023.

Keele, L. (2007) “Social Capital and the Dynamics of Trust in Government”, American Journal of Political Science,Vol.51,No.2:241-257.

Ostrom, Elinor, and Roger B. Parks, Stephen L. Percy, and Gordon P. Whitaker. “The Public Service Production Process: A Framework for Analyzing Police Services.” Policy Studies Journal, vol. 7, no. s1, 1978, pp. 381-389. Wiley Online Library, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1541-0072.1978.tb01782.x/full

Tampubolon, G. (2010) “Civic engagement and trust in Britain 2003-2004.” ISC Working Paper 2010-14, Manchester University.

AWESOME PROJECT: Building a park for legal slacklining in Boulder, CO

Have you ever tried slacklining? You know – tying a rope between two trees (or over a canyon) and using your arms to balance you as you walk across? It’s great exercise, great for fine-tuning all those little muscles in your body whose names no one knows, great for promoting mind-body balance, great for calming and focusing the mind, and great for bringing adventurous folks together in communities. In other words, it’s super fun.

Only problem is that in lots of places, slacklining is illegal. It’s sort of in the same vein as skateboarding, that way – some cities see the sport as a bit of a public menace, and put tight regulations on which trees can and can’t be used. Officials worry, understandably, about liability   issues and injuries. Tyler Shalvarjian found that out the hard way a year or so back, when he was out slacklining with some friends in a Boulder park, and a cop walked up to them with a $250 fine.

 

David Taschner

[photo by David Taschner]

When your favorite sport is… illegal?

“Somebody must have called the cops,” Shalvarjian explains. “A couple of officers came up and told us that what we were doing was highly illegal, and that if one of the six of us didn’t take the ticket, then we would each receive a $250 ticket. As a community, we crowdfunded to pay for that ticket, and then I had a court hearing and put in eight hours of community service.”
Instead of getting upset about the ticket, Shalvarjian did what smart community leaders do day in and day out: he got active. He went to the Parks and Rec department and asked if they would build a slackline park where Boulder residents could practice the sport legally. And guess what? Two years and lots of hard work later, his dream is turning into a reality. He and a team – including Mackenzie Boli, who works for the city of Boulder on the Resilient Boulder Initiative – are just about done raising the final $2,500 needed to build Boulder’s very first official community slackline obstacle course – right in Tantra Park.

Support this project

“What we’re doing with Resilient Boulder,” explains Boli, whose background is in climatology and environmental science, “is trying to create a space where community members can access money that’s more readily available than it might be from some of our grant processes. So we pay the fees associated with ioby for community members who are creating resilience-oriented projects. This Tantra Park slackline course is the first project we’re working on.” What’s resilience? Think flood mitigation, access to healthy food, building social capital at the neighborhood level. Resilience is about addressing day-to-day challenges, so our community is stronger when there is a bigger threat, like a forest fire or flood. Think any project that makes your neighborhood cleaner, greener, healthier, more connected.

 

Katrin Bell
[photo by Katrin Bell]

Exercising the body, the brain… and the community activism muscle

Shalvarjian got into slacklining in college, when he saw a video of a friend doing it, and falling off the rope into a freezing cold lake. He was sold. “Originally it was about relaxing and being able to meditate and focus on just slacklining,” he explains now, “you can’t really focus on much else when you’re doing it – and it was just a way to step away from things. But as soon as I got out to Colorado for college, it pretty instantly became about community, because there’s an awesome slacklining community out here.”

Having been involved since the start in the effort to legalize slacklining in Boulder, Shalvarjian is going to be taking some lessons away with him. “I think the best thing I’ve gained from this effort to legalize slacklining” he says, “is that it felt pretty good to have worked on something for so long – two years – and taken the right steps to do it, and to have been successful. We still have a lot to work on with the city. But it felt good to have established a new way of doing things.”

 

Waverley Woodley
[photo by Waverley Woodley]

He’s also taking some new, well-earned patience and perspective with him into his day job at a startup automated video company in Denver. “I guess the way that it’s affected my work and how I do things day to day is that I’m quite a bit more patient,” he says. “Slacklining isn’t the first thing on the city’s agenda – I’m sure they have other issues they’re dealing with that are more important than the community’s desire to slackline. This has improved my patience, and I’ve become better at trying to explain things to people. For me, slacklining is more of a selfish act – I’m gaining patience and perspective for myself, and calming myself down. But working with the city, I learned how to apply that externally.”

A true citizen action convert, he says he’ll always make himself available as a resource for the city of Boulder and anyone else who needs his help. That’s pretty cool, if you ask us.

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

5 green infrastructure questions for veteran ioby leader Robyn Mace

Three-time ioby Leader Robyn Mace raised the money, buy-in, and helping hands needed to convert a neglected lot adjacent to her family’s Memphis home into the stormwater-thirsty  Evergreen Rain Garden.


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Why did you want to use green infrastructure in your neighborhood?

I’d seen flooding at the site and knew it was a problem. I wanted to do something to help, but didn’t want to have to water or maintain the area like you would a lawn. I also thought it would be a great place to propagate some native plants, and that it could serve as a demonstration site to show other homeowners that they can do something to reduce runaway stormwater runoff, too.

 

How did you get the word out and gain support for the rain garden?

I relied on two pretty strong neighborhood associations: the Evergreen Historic District Association and the Evergreen Garden Association. Both were great for building awareness and helping to raise funds. I had also been petitioning to get the sidewalks around the lot fixed, which put me in touch with some good people. Lastly, I actually went door to door and talked to my neighbors. I am not a social media maven, but I’m sure the process would have gone even faster if I were!

 

Can you share any tips for working with decision makers?

Develop an “elevator pitch” for your idea [a quick summary you can relate quickly and casually—like during an elevator ride], and practice it. Also have a written summary ready—with illustrations if possible—that you can immediately send to anyone. Both of these efforts demonstrate that you’ve thought things through and come prepared. Try to figure out who might get involved as early as possible and reach out to them: an area gardening organization, your local representatives, the city’s environmental or sanitation department, etc. Make yourself available to answer questions. And ask questions! Everybody I spoke with got on board with this idea pretty quickly, even if they didn’t have money to support it. That kept us going during moments when we thought it might not happen.

 

What were the benefits of the garden? Did they go beyond environmental ones?

Absolutely. In terms of community, we got to know neighbors from blocks away—sometimes even ten or twelve blocks away! In all we had close to 20 people come out to help build it. Some donors gave money to one of the local associations to help; some just slipped a $10 or $20 bill into a volunteer’s pocket! The area now looks healthy and maintained, which gives people a positive impression of open space, rather than thinking, “Why is there that unkempt empty space here?” Parents come by with their kids and check out the flowers. That’s always fun to see.

Environmentally, I have seen the garden fill with rain and still pull rainwater off the concrete pad it sits next to—which was the point! Does it make a big impact on our greater water management system by itself? No; it holds maybe 200 or 300 gallons in a big storm. But for what it was supposed to be, it’s absolutely worked. And I have heard from other people and groups in the city that they’re trying out their own green infrastructure projects after seeing this one, so I’m glad to see it working on the demonstration level, too.

 

What should residents know or do before embarking on their own green infrastructure project?

Find out everything you can about the location you’re selecting. Learn who owns the property and its previous uses; do a search for news stories about it; see if there’s any infrastructure like gas lines under it. If you see city crews working on it, go ask them what they’re doing! Research some good precedents for the kind of project you want to do so you can be confident it will work—and you can illustrate that to other people. Go into it with the mindset that you’re willing to put elbow grease into a crummy place and make it better: why wouldn’t people want to help you do that?! But also be flexible and open to new ideas. Don’t assume that anyone, including you, has all the answers. Remember that advocates can come from unlikely places. Be prepared to regroup and persevere after the inevitable setbacks. Think long-term about your project’s maintenance needs and do your best to prepare for them to be met. Never hesitate to share your good ideas: the goal is to spread the positive impacts, not get an award for best idea. Lastly, keep at it! When your project starts to work, it’s really awesome.

AWESOME PROJECT: Walk Austin makes it official, 501c3 style

We never get tired of hearing from campaign leaders who appreciate not just the personal crowdsourcing training, tactical support, and signature ioby love we provide, but also the legal backing that we, a fiscal sponsorship service, bring to the table. It can be really challenging and limiting for smaller groups that aren’t 501c3s themselves – gardening clubs, say, or educator collectives, or simply handfuls of neighbors coming together with a vision – to navigate the choppy fundraising seas alone. We’re proud to facilitate that process, so that they can focus on doing what they do: knowing better than anyone else what their own communities need, building that educational beehive, starting that edible community garden, creating that pop-up bike lane, etc.

What you may not know is that we also love to help organizations achieve 501c3-hood themselves. And today’s a pretty neat day, because one of our favorite Texas organizations – the pedestrian advocacy coalition Walk Austin – is just about to wrap up raising the money they need to make it official. Well, to be more exact, they reached their 501c3 fundraising goal so easily last week that they extended their ioby deadline by a few days, so that they could raise cash for some other necessities, like a coalition website (right now they’re only on Facebook).

 

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Eyes on the prize and walking ahead

At the helm of this push to make it official is Walk Austin board member Katie Deolloz, a former DIV 1 athlete with a background in kinesthesiolopgy and nonprofit management, who now owns a walking company and is a certified walking coach. America Walks recently awarded her one of 23 national 2017 Walking College fellowships, to continue her work as a major pedestrian advocate.

Deolloz is the real deal. A committed minimalist, she likes to call the aesthetic of her family’s home “spartan chic,” and oh, btw, they went car-free years ago. “There were unexpected repercussions for that decision,” she says wryly. “Like the perceptions people have of you – like, are you poor? Are you guys doing okay financially?” Doesn’t phase her, though. She’s used to being seen as a rebel. Jesus walked places, as she points out, and so can she, “no looking back.” What makes her able to take the leap so many environmentalists only ever think about? “I definitely think my personality factors in,” she laughs. “Just ask my husband.”

Instead of driving, Deolloz and her husband and two kids walk, unicycle (daughter), skateboard (son), and bike everywhere. Sometimes, during the hot Texas summers, sure, it’d be nice to hop in an air-conditioned car – but most days, car-free a joy and a fulfilling way of life. It causes them to be more thoughtful about where they go, and at what time of day. We wish you’d been on the phone with us when we interviewed Deolloz earlier this week; you’d be just about ready to give up your car right now, too. She’s got a laugh you can’t not smile at, and you can just hear in her no-nonsense voice that when she’s got a vision, she Gets It Done.

So its not surprising that just months after she joined the Walk Austin board, the 501c3 status she immediately pushed for is already within reach. “I was sitting there going, wait a minute, we’ve got some really great grant opportunities,” Deolloz explains, “because there’s been a real shift in the active transportation world. A lot of the funding had been available for bikes, but now they’re starting to realize we’ve really got to have a ped component. So there’s just more funding opportunities available, and naturally it would behoove our organization to have that legal component squared away. I was like, let’s make this happen. It can be done – let’s do it!” Can you hear the grit in that voice?

“I get really excited when I think about becoming a 501c3,” she adds, “because there’s so much possibility. There are already a number of grant opportunities that we’re aware of. I see it happening very quickly. We’re looking forward to being able to hire staff – creating good jobs for people locally, doing good work. And ultimately really being a voice for a walkable Austin. I can’t wait to take it to the national level. I am STOKED. Walk Austin is going to be known! We are comin for ya! We are WALKING! There’s so much to come.”

 

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We know an ailing America can start to walk again

Walking is personal for Deolloz on lots of levels. Cardiovascular and metabolic disease run in her family, and she decided long ago to take the reins and choose a healthy, active path for herself and her children.

“Both my parents have type two diabetes,” she explains, “which is completely preventable. And I look around at our society, and the one thing that people can do every day is walk. That’s the most accessible form of physical movement. But in order to do that, people need to have a safe environment in which to move. So I kind of operate at that intersection of physical fitness and built environment.” Imagine an Austin that’s connected by a seamless network of gorgeous, green, safe walking trails and sidewalks. Imagine an Austin in which walking is the safer and more pleasant option, no matter where you’re headed.

 

 

What you can do to help

  1. Do you have a skillset or background that could be useful to Walk Austin? “We are currently looking for board members,” says Deolloz. “We’re really interested in people who want to advocate for a safe, connected, walkable Austin, with whatever skills they have to contribute.”
  2. Walk Austin will also be, in coming months, looking into possible partnerships with neighborhood groups (is that you?) and working to help residents in all corners of Austin locate the resources they need to advocate for safe, walkable routes on their own turf. The group wants to see locals starting conversations with council members, reimagining their blocks, stepping out of their cars to take a peek at what could be. “We want to help train our neighbors to be advocates for walkability as well,” says Deolloz.
  3. Check in with Walk Austin’s Facebook page periodically, and keep an eye out for a series of intentional group walks that Deolloz will be leading in the fall. Bring your best active transport ideas with you, to share.
  4. To embarrassed to ask what the heck a 501c3 is, anyway? No shame. We got you.
  5. Donate to the campaign, here.
  6. Walk out your front door. Don’t get in your car. Turn right or left, and then keep going. Walk Austin (… Denver, Memphis, NYC, Pittsburgh, etc.).

 

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

VIDEO: ABC Garden in East Harlem / El Barrio

Working with local residents, volunteers, and youth leaders, ABC has created a paradise in El Barrio (aka East Harlem). Their community garden programs give children and families an opportunity to grow their own food and enjoy relaxing, volunteering, learning, and doing yoga in the garden.

Finding a healthy meal and a shady tree is not easy in East Harlem, a historically marginalized community. Access to nutritious food and safe green spaces is limited in this neighborhood, where the rates of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease are among the highest in New York City. East Harlem residents experience high incidents of hardship such as poverty, violence, and pollution, all of which significantly decrease quality of life.

Part of ioby and the New York State Health Foundation’s Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge, ABC crowdfunded more than $11,000 to make the garden grow in the 2017 season!

The Edward Jones Placemaking on Main Crowdfunding Challenge: “Light, quick, cheap” catalysts for change this summer

Acts of creative placemaking are fabulous in every season, but they’re particularly poised to shine in the summertime, when days are long, plants are in bloom, and people are outdoors.

This summer, ioby is delighted to be launching a campaign with National Main Streets Center (NMSC) that’s providing matching funds to support placemaking projects in town centers across the U.S. Generously funded by Edward Jones, the campaign is one of several match programs we’re undertaking with NMSC this year. Read more about it, and check out the awesome projects that are eligible for matching funds—your donation will be doubled until July 31!

“We love NMSC’s four-pronged approach to comprehensive, community-led revitalization,” says Ethany Uttech, ioby’s Leader Action Strategist & Partnership Manager. “It guides resident leaders in creating a great sense of place and a strong, economically viable main street in their community. NMSC’s community-driven approach aligns beautifully with ioby’s focus on resident-led action.”

The 10 projects selected from a nationwide pool of submissions are all unique to their community’s needs, but have a common thread: they all use elements of creative placemaking in “lighter, quicker, cheaper” concepts that aim to catalyze local economies, activate public spaces, and engage residents. For years, we’ve witnessed the tremendous ability of the arts to help people reenvision and reinvent public spaces in their communities, so we champion these local leaders and look forward to seeing the fruits of their labors!

What’s more, while ioby serves resident leaders nationwide, the majority of projects we’ve so far supported have taken place in urban centers. As you’ll see below and on the campaign page, these projects are popping off in small and mid-size communities. We’re pleased to help their leaders show that community crowdfunding for place-based projects works whether it’s happening in a big city or a small town. Regardless of population, neighborhood-level change is most powerful and viable when resident leadership and personal investment are driving it.

 

Here’s a quick look at three of the campaign’s winning projects:

pig town pop up

Pigtown Pop-Up ParkWith help from our friends at Project for Public Spaces, neighbors in Maryland’s Pigtown neighborhood want to help transform an overlooked major intersection into a welcoming gateway for residents and commuters. (This project and The Mural Project at Ground Floor Farm, in downtown Stuart, Florida, are both sited on a Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard—which, sadly, are marked by high rates of disinvestment across the country.)

 

 

Maker Trail enid

Maker TrailDowntown Enid, Oklahoma already hosts a bustling First Friday series, but neighborhood leaders want to spur greater participation (and imagination) by adding a Maker Trail. As they stroll the streets, residents will be enticed to stop and tackle fun, hands-on projects at stations dedicated to themes like music, physics, and robotics.

 

 

Art In Alley

Art In The AlleyThe alley that runs alongside the Marsh Hotel in Van Wert, Ohio currently serves only as a pedestrian pathway between spaces—but local leaders envision a community gathering place where people can sit and enjoy a workday lunch, listen to live music on a Friday date night, or play a game of Giant Jenga with friends.

 

Loving these projects as much as we are? See them all on the campaign page, and remember that all donations up to $1,000 will be matched until July 31!

Meet Harriet Tregoning, ioby’s Newest Board Member!

At ioby, our Board of Directors has long been one of our greatest resources, and it’s difficult to overstate how essential this incredible group of people has been in shaping our organization. From a leading role in establishing and embodying our mission and values, to practical and expert guidance of our tactical work in our cities of focus, it’s safe to say this is no typical nonprofit board. The bar is set high.

That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that Harriet Tregoning has joined our board! Harriet has spent decades working as a leader in community development and neighborhood resilience across all levels of government. Her work represents some of the smartest, most innovative thinking out there combining sustainability, livability, economic opportunity, and more. We’re honored to have her as a thought partner and a leader in shaping our work to best serve the needs and opportunities within the neighborhoods we serve.

We recently spoke with Harriet to ask her about her experience and how it fits in with the work at ioby.

Harriet Tregoning

 

What first got you interested in community development?

Like many people, I trained to do certain work in college and thought I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing satisfying work I cared about as an environmental engineer at the EPA, working on hazardous waste issues. I was sent to a meeting one day to represent the agency on a “sustainable communities task force being run out of Bill Clinton’s White House.” At that meeting I sat across the table from community groups, national nonprofits, and for-profit corporations, the latter I knew mostly from an EPA perspective, as “polluters.” It turned out that we actually agreed on 80% of the issues affecting community sustainability. Over the course of two years, we were able to reach nearly total consensus about the future of sustainability and we had identified lots of opportunities to work cooperatively.

Back at the EPA, I began to feel like I was swabbing the deck of the Titanic, tracking down environmental infractions and paperwork violations, while the land use across the country was being transformed. Communities across the country were being depopulated and disinvested in, while new communities were being created often on former farmland, far from job centers and at a very low density, connected only via private automobile travel. The environmental impact of this was disastrous. So I tried to figure out how, housed within the EPA, my team could work toward better environmental quality, but also better outcomes for communities. We wanted to combat sprawl, but it couldn’t be regulatory. We kept the name of it somewhat ambiguous – the Smart Growth Network – so nobody would be alarmed that the EPA was working on land use issues.

Together we worked to encourage more sustainable development practices with a land use framework that encouraged compact growth, a mix of uses, walkable streets, housing affordability, transportation choices, and more. From the beginning, the Smart Growth Network was decentralized – we had members from groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Association of Counties, but also the American Farmland Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and even the Urban Land Institute, an organization for developers. It was collaboratively focused and cross cutting, and that’s how we were able to get anywhere.

 

What has motivated your work throughout your career?

My goal is to change human settlement patterns to be closer to what they have been for most of our history, getting back to the walkable neighborhood as the basic pattern. The development of the automobile caused physical destruction of neighborhoods, but it also allowed patterns of segregation in where we live. It allowed people with access to automobiles to get away from people who were not like them.

Whenever I consider a professional opportunity, I ask myself: Am I going to help to improve human settlement patterns, making our neighborhoods more walkable, more livable, and less segregated? If the answer is yes, I take the job. If no, then I don’t. I’ve worked at all three levels of government: federal, state and local, in transportation, on the environmental side, in housing. The position or agency almost doesn’t matter — there is so much change needed, that there is almost an infinite number of positions and organizations from which you can begin to affect this issue.

 

What has been your approach to working with communities?

As a planner, you need to take communities’ aspirations seriously and engage people in their visions for their future. I have come to see a common thread in many of my jobs – managing change. I’ve managed change on the organizational level, in the physical environment, and in terms of life outcomes and the landscape of opportunity in communities. And I recognize that for many people and many communities, change is a scary and unwelcome thing. In almost every community, people have lived through changes that made them worse off, even when intentions were good. Addressing their lived experience and how to get to a different outcome is a necessary first step in any conversation about the future.

Even when you have a plan that community members are happy about, you have a responsibility to continue to earn the trust of the community and justify their investment in the process of figuring out what the future should be. It’s also important to demonstrate the change you’re hoping to see. Is it a safer neighborhood with more transportation choices? Better small-business opportunities? More affordable housing that will stay affordable? It’s not enough make a plan — implementing early on even a small scale can help build buy-in, gaining momentum for further implementation and ensuring future change will hew to the plan.

 

Do you have favorite projects you’ve worked on?

We have so many assets, and so much capacity in communities that we’re not using. It’s been my role to recognize talent and give people with good ideas opportunities to help tap into that. I’ll use the 11th St Bridge Park project in DC as an example. We had infrastructure as an asset – the old bridge was going to be decommissioned. It connected some of the poorest neighborhoods in the east of the District to some of the richest and most rapidly changing. A park on the footprint of the old bridge span would be a place where two communities could come together – for recreation, for local commerce, for relaxation, to enjoy the peace and beauty of the river, and to have a humanist connection to each other. There was a real opportunity there, not only to create this special connection, but to allow the east side communities to have their say in that development.

The head of that project, Scott Kratz, does his job with incredible zeal and purpose. He helped secure a $50M commitment from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, to support deliberate, equitable development adjacent to the Bridge Park to ensure that, along with the development in Anacostia, everyone has the opportunity to prosper in their neighborhood and enjoy these new amenities and connections.

Another example: Along DC’s commercial corridors, we are fortunate to have a lot of small businesses, but we also have a lot of vacancy. Landlords, being risk averse, will sometimes wait for a large tenant — a chain drugstore or a bank — and in the meantime the property will sit empty. So we created a program to support “temporary urbanism,” wherein small businesses could open pop-ups, arts organizations could use storefronts for rehearsal spaces, and things like that.

This program not only enlivened the street, it actually helped property owners lease out the spaces permanently, because it helped potential tenants see opportunity. It also helped launch a number of retail brokerages, local small businesses in and of themselves. Restaurants, which before would only be open at night, started second uses in the day, creating more street life. And as more people are working from home and the line between commercial and residential districts gets blurred, people want to have little commercial districts near home to buy their milk, coffee, bread and batteries. The result has been neighborhoods that are more livable, more sociable, safer, and that have more employment. 

 

What do those in the grassroots sector need to know about working with government?

I have found it useful to think less about an entire organization (whether a government agency or a company) and more about personal efficacy. There are marvelously effective people in almost every organization. They are not necessarily at the top of that organization. Find the people who are really committed to the mission of the agency or organization, those who seem to be there because they want to do something, not to be someone. Go to meetings, have side conversations, and find out what people care about. If you can adjust your project to work with them, and better align with what they can and want to do.

Be flexible, especially with local government. You may not end up working with the agency you thought you needed. It may turn out that you have a great advocate in transportation, or human services, or the housing agency. Find the people who have a great range of interests and want to help. Their position is less important.

 

What do you think makes a resilient community?

ioby works by tapping into a dense network of interpersonal relationships, and this is a critical aspect of resilience at any scale. Imagine being in Cleveland during a heatwave, and you’re an elderly person or a single mother. If your neighbors are aware that you don’t have AC and they check on you, you are more likely to weather that heatwave. That same network of relationships is beneficial whether there’s an emergency or an opportunity, or even if you just need gardening advice.

With the rapid change that’s been brought about by electronic communication, people now have an ability to connect with “their tribe” regardless of place. The downside of this is that it’s become possible for people to live side by side and not ever have an interaction. We need to figure out ways to foster interaction, to foster collective process, and to figure out a vision of a shared future. There is a real danger in having a lack of connectivity to people who aren’t exactly like you. And one of the best ways to build the dense network of relationships within a community is simply to work together. ioby is built on that principle. And it’s important to build that network at all scales – the block, the neighborhood, the city, and beyond. In fact, figuring out how to help this happen is the job of local government — but they don’t always realize it.

 

About Harriet

Harriet Tregoning is the immediate past Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Community Planning and Development at the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Her work at HUD encompassed helping states, regions, cities, counties and towns across the country build a strong foundation for resilience in the face of a changing climate, and for a diverse and prosperous economy based on enhancing community quality of place, economic opportunity, fiscal stability, transportation choice, and affordability.

Tregoning was previously Director of the District of Columbia Office of Planning, where she worked to make DC a walkable, bikeable, eminently livable, globally competitive and thriving city. Prior to this she was the Director of the Governors’ Institute on Community Design, co-founded with former Maryland Governor Glendening. She served Governor Glendening as Secretary of Planning in Maryland. Prior to her tenure in Maryland state government, Tregoning was the Director of Development, Community and Environment at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. She was a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2004.

VIDEO: New Orleans Compost NOW!

Compost NOW is a free residential food waste collection project in New Orleans. Master Composter Lynne Serpe and her team of volunteers partner with the New Orleans Public Library to build on the community library model of reuse and resource sharing in a place that’s convenient to everyone, across all demographics and ages.

Compost NOW raised more than $1,500 with ioby to expand to two additional sites, and help add a weekday and evening drop-off option. Their ultimate goal is to build a network of community composters in every neighborhood in New Orleans, collectively diverting tons of food waste from the landfill each month.

AWESOME PROJECT: Making space for women, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Melissa Wong and Sandra Hong were both coming from men’s worlds: the tech industry, and the restaurant industry, respectively. They knew firsthand that there was a need in their community for a space designed by and focused on women. Hong had already founded Brooklyn-based Girl Party – a once a week series for unconventional gatherings, and Wong had been running a regular women’s networking and peer mentorship meet-up. When a mutual friend put them in touch, they hit it off right away, and decided to see what they could build together. New Women Space was born.

“I’d always wanted to do a community space,” says Wong, “after working at a lot of different tech companies for their community teams. I’d personally made the value judgment that I think people are craving that in-person connection – feeling seen and heard. Which has an altogether different quality than liking or commenting on a post online, or even taking an online class.”

 

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The little pop-up that could

Hong and Wong set out to built a one-month pop-up space for women led and focused events, just to see how it would go, and to find out whether people would respond. Fast-forward ten months: the duo has just renewed their lease for year two (though they desperately need AC installed – see more on that below), and they’ve got over 200 unique events already under their belt. They’ve just brought on 15 new commission-paid program coordinators – each of whom has her own beat, so that the resulting programming spans a wide range from community health and healing to social justice. Think self-care workshops, print and zine fests, writing classes, tutorials on socially/environmentally responsible investing. Three days a week, the space doubles as a co-work space for members, who attend events for free.

“The focus is that we’re women and femme-identified-led programming,” explains Wong. “It’s a ‘by us, for others to learn’ kind of mentality, as far as opening it up to other genders. Men are welcome in the space, but every so often there’s an event that specifies women and femmes only. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. People say ‘wow, this is so awesome. I haven’t really seen a place like this before.’ We had some people from DC here the other day, and they were like ‘oh, I haven’t heard of anything like this back home.’ I think it strikes people as unique.”

The Williamsburg space – which spans the first floor and basement level of a small building – isn’t huge, and maybe that’s a good thing. It lends itself naturally to smaller, more intimate gatherings – in other words, real conversations – rather than see-and-be-seen events. The first level is airy and open, while the basement level is windowless and private – a very safe-feeling space for difficult conversations and delicate subject matters.

 

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Now more than ever

Something extraordinary happened at New Women Space, the week after the election. A print and zine event was on the calendar, slated to take place just days after. “I didn’t know what the energy was going to be,” Wong says, “because everyone was still going through their own processing. But it was just really beautiful. People came in and were just so grateful that the space existed. It was a moment when Sandy and I were both like ‘whoa, okay, it does seem like now more than ever, women want to feel like there’s a place for them.”

If she lets her imagination run wild as to what this next year could bring for NWS, Wong imagines the space becoming more permanent, more financially self-sustaining, and just more full. “I think we would ideally get a little more radical on what it means to be a community space,” she says, “which is really distributing ownership. That could mean having a board. It could mean paying people to help us fill up the space even more than we are now. Just maximizing what we have.”

 

But first, a little AC?

Want to help NWS reach that kind of permanence and fullness? Well, first, they need a little help with this heat situation. They need AC units! Click here to check out their ioby campaign, which will pay for split system AC units to cool down the space during this muggy New York summer, so that everyone can just get back to the business of helping women feel at home – in themselves, and in their communities.

 

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.