Building civic power, one block at a time


What defines a civic action? What does meaningful civic engagement look like? How can communities build civic power?

People often think of a civic action as something like voting in an election, taking to the streets for a protest, or writing a letter to an elected official. And we certainly don’t disagree! But at ioby, we support civic action of a slightly different stripe.

 

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We think the most meaningful civic actions are not merely a registering of opinion but a reclaiming of power.

We often see this happen when people step up to lead a tangible positive impact on their community.  In turn, this leadership can set off a chain reaction of larger and larger impacts that can ultimately affect the way decisions are made on the highest levels.  We think this power shift is a positive improvement to any community, but can be especially meaningful in neighborhoods with histories of disinvestment like many where we  focus. 

Sound abstract? Here’s what we mean, and how it works.

When you contribute to a neighbor-led project where you live—whether by starting it, volunteering for it, or donating money to it—you’re not just making a community garden prettier or a crosswalk safer. You’re also calling out your own stake in the place where you live, and helping to determine its future on several levels:

  • Project Level. In the most basic way, local projects build the fabric of their neighborhoods. Even the lowest-ticket undertaking can make a significant impact on a community by greening up a vacant lot, offering prenatal yoga classes to low-income moms, or renovating a basketball court.
  • Personal Level. Leading a neighborhood project is a big deal—in a good way! Summoning your skills and building mutual trust with your neighbors to do something positive, even if it’s temporary or “doesn’t seem like much,” can be a transformative esperience. When we become the agents of change were we live, we begin to see how much power we really have to make a difference.
  • Neighborhood Level. Now expand that leaders’ mind-shift to a whole neighborhood. When people see the real-time impact of their involvement, when there are visible signs that neighbors are invested in a community’s improvement, the whole place can begin to shine with possibility.
  • Civic Level. Here’s a pattern we’ve noticed: when neighbors come together to take ownership over positive change where they live, others pay attention. Policy makers, elected leaders, and the philanthropic sector take note of the good ideas, momentum, and civic strength displayed by neighborhood leaders, which in turn encourages more equitable, responsive, and inclusive decision-making processes at the highest levels.

 

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Read more about these four level of impact in our Memphis Impact Report.

One of our favorite examples of the life cycle of neighbor-led local change is the story of Binh Dam and the MARTA Army in Atlanta, Georgia. When he moved to Atlanta, Binh noticed that most of the bus stops downtown didn’t post route maps or schedules. Through his project Timely Trip (part of our inaugural Trick Out My Trip campaign), Binh raised about $500 and recruited a team of volunteers to install temporary schedules at several bus stops. His good work attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA), and helped convince the agency to form an official citizen group called MARTA Army, in which transit riders themselves are empowered to identify and address needs within the transit system. More recently, as a direct result of pressure by the Army, MARTA announced plans for service expansions, more security cameras, mobile-ticketing technology, and other improvements. How’s that for increasingly big impact?!

 

 

If you, like many people, are questioning how you can find your place in civic life—especially in this political climateconsider what you could do on your own block. ioby projects may start small, but their impact can grow step-by-step into something much bigger: real, meaningful, and long-term civic power.

What’s your idea? ioby.org/idea

Leaders Wanted


Have you ever wondered why we use the term “ioby Leader” to describe the people running the projects you see on our website?

If you have, you’re not alone—we get this question all the time! Here’s our thinking:

Why not… creators?

Leading an ioby project is a team effort. Individual initiative is key to making an impact, but leaders lead others! Successful ioby projects are more about getting people together than being a creative genius.  (And in general we’ve found that the more people you have on your fundraising team, the more successful your project will be.)

Why not… users?

While ioby does provide an online platform for neighborhood projects, we don’t think of the people who take advantage of our resources as “users” (the way many websites do), because most of their work takes place offline, in their neighborhoods.

Why not… residents, or community members?

Everyone who lives somewhere is a resident (not all residents are “citizens,” so we also generally avoid that word). Everyone belongs to some kind of community. But a leader is someone who steps up and starts something.

We believe that everyone can contribute to the betterment of their neighborhood in some way, but ioby Leaders are the rarer birds who are driven, connected, and unafraid to ask for help or risk failure. They’re working at the vanguard of positive change.

Why not… participants, or grantees?

In the worlds of philanthropy and city government, it’s common to hear these terms, as well as phrases like “bottom-up” and “community input.” or “stakeholder outreach.” We’re wary of descriptions that paint resident leaders as low-ranking, passive consumers enjoying the fruits of benevolent decision making, or being optional voices in neighborhood planning. ioby projects are not about asking residents to rubber stamp plans that were drawn up without them; they are dynamic and neighbor-led processes that start at the beginning—with identifying problems and solutions—and they call for leadership, not just participation.

 

Starting to see a pattern here?

The term “leader” reinforces the agency, power, and motivation people have and need when they plant something good and see it through. To be a leader, you don’t have to have any special experience or credentials; you just have to lead.

Whether you’re thinking about starting your first project, or are a practiced hand at getting good done, we’re here to help you become a successful ioby Leader (with a capital L). Get started now: tell us your idea.

AWESOME PROJECT: 16-year-old creates bike libraries for Cleveland public schools


Some people wait a lifetime to realize that they have a voice. That they can be the one who dreams up a solution to the problem.

Randy King was only 16 when he recently figured that out, and we’re beyond impressed by the way he’s launched right into putting his voice to awesome use. To combat climate change, he’s creating a bike library program for his former middle school and his current high school (he transferred to the school so that he could shepherd the pilot program himself, close-up, every day). He wants students to have healthy exercise options, as well as a carbon-free mode of transport to get them to and from school. Once those two pilot programs have gone live and proven stable, he aims, by 2020, to expand the bike library system to all 100 or so Cleveland public schools.

 

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Get by with a little help from your friends

The idea didn’t come to King in a vacuum. He attended the Sustainable Cleveland Summit as a student ambassador, met ioby’s  Indigo Bishop and learned how ioby could support him, sat in for the launch of the University Hospital Bikes program, was asked to lead a breakout group discussion, and was exposed to all kinds of climate activism.

“Growing up,” he says, “I thought about what I could do to fight climate change, but I always thought, I’m younger, I have to wait a little bit longer. But the Sustainable Cleveland Summit really showed me that it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are,  your gender, anything. If you want to make a change, and you want to make a difference in the whole world, there are people who can help you. It opened my eyes. I can do it. These people were giving me the opportunity to make a change.”

 

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Bikes to combat climate change

What got King into riding? It wasn’t the passion for the wind in his hair that some people describe. You know those people who only feel free when they’re on a bicycle? King likes to cycle, but for him, it’s a means to an end. What he really wants more than anything is to stop climate change.

“Cars, buses, that type of thing, they’re not that safe for our atmosphere,” explains King. “Personally, I believe that for a long time, we were trying to discover new things. We were doing a lot of things to evolve, and make things a lot easier. But in doing that, we messed up. We’re messing up the world, instead of making it better. And what we need to do now is take a step back, and start trying to preserve the world itself. If we continue on the path we’re going down, things aren’t going to be that good.”

 

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[Photo via Cleveland Metro Schools]

 

Progress so far

No big deal, but King’s kind of a youth bike celeb right now. He spends two hours a day, on top of his homework, mapping out the future of the Library, fielding requests from organizations that want to partner, and responding to press requests. He’s applied for and won a $5,000 grant from the Cleveland Climate Action Fund. He’s got the support of the CEO of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, of board members, and of local bike advocacy groups.

In other words, things are coming together. “A lot of people are passionate about this,” says King, “and some people didn’t know how to get started, and I took the initiative to make this change, and I’m letting everybody else get on board.”

Just shows what can happen when you dare to speak up and share your good ideas, doesn’t it?

 

What you can do

  1. Keep an eye on King. Seriously. We cannot wait to see where this young man goes. Checking out the Library’s Facebook page now and then is one way to do this.
  2. Donate to the Cleveland Bike Library. Only a few days days left til the end of King’s ioby campaign.
  3. Take a spin around your neighborhood, by bike. Breathe in some fresh air. Think of the work that this awesome 16-year-old is doing in his neighborhood. Look around at the places that are so familiar to you. Ask yourself this: what’s my great idea?

 

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? NO PROBLEMO! We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.

Looking for a blueprint to launch your project?


“Recipes for Change” is a new series of successful and replicable blueprints that can be applied to your ioby project. We’ve made them available to you online or in print-out form.

 

What are “recipes for change”?

Change requires collaborative action, time and plentiful resources. So, we’ve reached out to leaders in community organizing, advocacy, planning and other fields and asked them the need-to-know questions about getting a project off the ground. Within these how-to guides, our experts will not only cover the basics like industry standards and definitions, they will also show you how to apply these resources to leverage stakeholders or manage skeptics. These recipes provide a wealth of knowledge, alternative approaches and additional resources for your journey to making positive change in your neighborhood.

 

 

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So, visit our new Recipes for Change page and explore what these experts want you to know about starting an ioby project.

 

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.

 

Memphians share stories of transformation at ioby Memphis convening


ioby’s Memphis  convening (and the kickoff of a national series, with events coming up in Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New York) took place on Saturday afternoon, January 28th at the historic Clayborn Temple! With a crowd of 75-plus ioby leaders, community partners, project donors – and engaged Memphis residents who were new to ioby as well – we dug deep, reflected, and shared experiences with each other about the challenges, motivations, and triumphs of working to make positive local change.

Read the Commercial Appeal article  

 

Clayborn Temple

We are grateful to ioby board member, five-time ioby leader, and planning equity advocate Naomi Doerner for framing the day with her own personal remarks about what has brought her to the work of race, inclusion, and urban design. And Playback Memphis made the day come alive with their extremely powerful listening and performance technique that lifted up the voices of the amazing neighborhood activists in the room.

We closed the day mingling, chatting, sharing more about our stories and building relationships over delicious food from local caterer LUNCHBOXeats.

Special appreciation to the Playback Memphis troupe, the staff team at Clayborn Temple, ioby project leaders Jacqueline Shotwell and Jennifer Shorter, Naomi Doerner, our partners at Livable Memphis, and Choose901 for their support. And – Without the openhearted participation of all of our attendees, none of the learning and connection would have been possible!

Read stories from ioby Memphis in our Memphis Impact report

 

Q&A: Nashville’s Chief Data Officer on the parallels between crowdfunding and the Open Data movement


Three-time ioby Leader Robyn Mace  raised  the money, buy-in, and manpower needed to convert a neglected lot adjacent to her family’s Memphis home into a flood-ready  rain garden, butterfly sanctuary, and community space. That grassroots work – with its ups and downs – has informed the groundbreaking work she does on open data, in her day job as Nashville’s Chief Data Officer.

The Open Data movement is a relatively new one. Born about a decade ago, it first took hold in big cities like New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Philly, and Boston, and is spreading beyond. City officials who specialize in open data are interested in making public data just that – public. Available for all to see and to use. They’re interested in the democratization of city data, seeking to engage as many people as possible, and ensure complete digital inclusion. We talked with Mace about some of the sweet spots where crowdfunding and open data overlap.

 

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[Photo by Jamie Harmon]

 

How did your ioby project, the Evergreen Rain Garden, come about?

Well, I had thought about it for a long time, because my family owns that house, and everyone in the neighborhood blamed us for not maintaining the lot next door, even though it wasn’t ours. So when I moved there in 2013, I felt it was incumbent on me to start to address that.

When  people realize that the City owned the lot, and that there was something we could do about it, that’s when it really took off. I approached the neighborhood association, and they were instrumental in getting the sidewalks rebuilt, but we couldn’t get any kind of agreement with the City for the garden. We had offered to pay liability and get a Memorandum of Understanding with them, and basically they never followed up with us. So it left me in a position of either having to maintain a really big grass lot, or figure out an alternative. I’m a Master Gardener, and I was a member of the Garden Club, as well as I’d approached the Evergreen Historic District Association Board. The more volunteers worked in the garden, the more people were interested in supporting that work.

 

Did the project bring people together?

Absolutely. Instead of having an ugly lot and impassable sidewalk, now we had four beautiful garden beds, and a really pleasant and interesting landscape to walk by. You’d see people talking in the garden, or people would pull over to talk on the phone. It’s just a lovely focal point, and it’s just nice to not have it look ratty, frankly.

 

“The ioby project reinvigorated me, and really helped me understand the importance of civic engagement, and how residents  and municipal employees can work together”

 

What’s your focus, as Nashville’s Chief Data Officer, and does your experience on the ground with crowdfunding ever sneak in?

Municipal data, for the most part, is publicly owned, and the idea is that by opening the public data access, we can help citizens understand what is happening in their government. Traditionally, cities haven’t been so great at using the data that they have and collect. I think Washington DC had the first open data portal in 2006, and it’s been sort of a movement since then. So it’s about transparency and accountability but also citizen engagement, in terms of giving people  the ability to identify trends and patterns around different types of services and activities that they’re particularly interested in.

The ioby process and doing a project really helped me better understand how to use community engagement to drive good outcomes. We work closely with the civic tech community, and now  I’m  trying to think about how to engage and deploy residents  in  data visualization and analysis.

 

Does your crowdfunding experience make you more prone to see little pockets of opportunity, as you look at Nashville?

Absolutely. Even though I’m a city official, recognizing the important of being able to be agile and do tactical urbanism is pretty important. One of the things we learned from the development community is you don’t try to design and implement a full-blown program; what you need to do is  deploy and see what works and what doesn’t, and then try again, and try again. So it’s in some respects  introducing the ability to fail, because we’re trying different things. It’s a huge paradigm shift. And so in thinking about the ioby project, it’s  the same kind of engagement: how do we get the results we want, in small, incremental steps?

I had worked for municipal government before, and done a lot of advising and training of municipal employees. The ioby project reinvigorated me, and really helped me understand the importance of civic engagement, and how residents  and municipal employees can work together on problems that they both identified, maybe with different interests or concerns. This has made it so much easier for me to work with the civic tech community.

 

Why is it important for cities to be willing to experiment, fail, and try again?

The problems are so big and so complex,  you can’t expect that you can fix them right away. You have to understand that complex problems require multiple partners and complex solutions. And you don’t get to those with the same business as usual approach. It’s  a big risk politically. At the same time, it’s really important to engage citizens and have them understand the complexity of issues that are faced as well as the fiscal issues. Because once you help people understand the dynamic, they can set their own expectations and decide how much they’re going to participate. And even understanding that they have avenues and ways to participate is critically important.

 

For those in the crowdfunding sphere who are new to open data and want to explore, what’s a good first step?

Just go to your open data portal, and start to click around. Traditionally, governments have been taking information, keeping it in a black box, making decisions, and then providing information on demand. And Open Data basically says that public information is going to be open by default, and we’re going to share it with you, because we want you to know what’s going on, and we want you to have input into the processes, because this is your government.

 

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: Do you have a project in mind for your neighborhood? Hesitating on getting started, because you need a green light from city officials, and you’re loath to ask? Fear not! ioby Action Corps is here! Click over here to learn from the pros about “getting to yes” with city officials. If they did it, so can you.

Racial Healing and Resident-Led Change


Today is the United States’ first-ever National Day of Racial Healing. It’s meaningfully situated between Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration of a new president whose election campaign fanned the flames of racial intolerance. It also gives all of us at ioby a good opportunity to reflect on the work we do and the people and projects we support.

We believe that the work we support in neighborhoods across the US is deeply, intrinsically linked to healing. Many of the resident leaders with whom we work live in neighborhoods that have undergone decades of structural racism and other forms of oppression, from redlining to police violence. When residents of a neighborhood like Buckeye in Cleveland, or Orange Mound in Memphis, come together to build something positive using resources from within the community, it’s both a reclaiming of power and an act of healing.

 

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[High School students in the Heights neighborhood of Memphis work to brighten abandoned buildings as part of ioby project Community Bored Up]

 

Some ioby projects have an explicitly stated racial or social justice goal— Cleveland Action Legal and Jail Support, and the A Bridge That Bridges are a couple of recent examples. But overall, the more than 1,000 ioby projects show a great diversity: community gardens, prenatal yoga, protected bike lanes, Halloween parades, and little free libraries to name a few.

Although they seem to cover a lot of ground, a closer look at many of these projects reveals their commitment to addressing more deeply-rooted, systemic problems. UJIMA Refresh was started in response to the lack of access to fresh food in a Cleveland neighborhood, a direct result of decades of racist economic policy and disinvestment. The students attending Leadership Memphis Pathway to Prosperity College & Career Tours come from a county where almost half of high school grads, primarily students of color, don’t enroll in postsecondary education; their economic opportunities were systematically blocked by decades of segregation and redlining. And the list goes on.

It’s no mistake that the work of our leaders is aligned in this way; in fact, the focus on racial healing is something we as an organization are actively working to support. We have deliberately chosen to grow our presence in neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment. We believe that residents in communities like these should not have to move to live in a better neighborhood. There is already tremendous knowledge, innovation, and energy among individuals and groups who step up to lead positive change where they live. It’s our job simply to help provide the platform, training, and resources to help this work make quick, visible impacts. We believe that by partnering with neighbors who are already doing the great work of healing, we can work together to bring about positive change on the personal, local, and national level.

Especially in today’s divisive and disorienting political climate, our differences can feel greater than the commonalities that unite us, and it takes real courage to reach out to our neighbors and build something together in the spaces we share. But we believe that rooted in this effort is a transformative act of healing, and we will continue to dedicate our work to supporting it.

Do you agree? Want to lend a hand? Here are two great ways to take action:

 

 

Other amazing ioby projects working for racial justice and healing:

Saving our Sons and Daughters (project deadline March 11!)

Students Under the Stars

Hollaback! Detroit: Taking It to the Streets

Friends of Chelsea Greenline Advocacy Group

Black Hills Unity Concerts: 2014, 2015, 2016

ATNSC Center for Healing & Creative Leadership

Bee for Justice

Flip the Table Youth Food Council

Shooting Without Bullets

Music on the Inside for Young People at Rikers Island

Youth Leaders Board

AWESOME PROJECT: Juicing it up for Cleveland food justice


Bianca Butts, an entrepreneur and resident of the Buckeye neighborhood of Cleveland, has long volunteered her time to a local nonprofit called HEAL: Healthy Eating, Active Living. HEAL is a community-led movement that works to make healthy eating and active living integral parts of the culture of Buckeye, Larchmere, and Woodland Hills. One of the greatest roadblocks the organization faces is that it is still simply too difficult to get fresh, whole foods and healthy prepared foods in Buckeye.

“So we’ve altered the behavior of residents – great!” explains Butts. “We’ve got people who want to be healthy and active and they want to eat well, but they don’t have anywhere to go get healthy food in their neighborhood.”

 

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five a day for a great mood

First order of business, she decided: fruits and veggies! “I was reading a lot of books that talked about how uptaking your fruits and vegetables, natural whole foods, could really help naturally alter your mood, as opposed to taking pharmaceutical pills, which offer some relief but they also come with a host of side effects,” says Butts.

She started setting the time aside to make fresh, not-too-sweet, vibrantly-colored juices for herself and her roommate. They were packed with fruits and veggies – and even spices, like anti-inflammatory superstar turmeric – and when she saw how terrific they made her feel, she knew she had to share her new knowledge with her community.

 

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and even in a food desert?

The Buckeye neighborhood of Cleveland is a food desert, which means that local residents don’t have reliable or sufficient access to fresh produce and other healthy foods. Buckeye’s main drag is lined with fast food joints, and grocery stores are shuttering their windows; you have to work hard to eat healthy here.

“Juicing was working really great for me,” explains Butts, “but living on Buckeye I could see the trend. I would juice at home, but every once in a while life gets in the way, and you haven’t gone to the grocery store. That’s when you want to run out and grab something on your way to work. And I could never do that in my community. And I got frustrated, and felt that why do I have to leave my community to access healthy food?”

One Business Administration masters degree, one entrepreneurship class, one merit-based free pass to a local food business incubator program, and a few taste-tasting parties later, Butts had her answer. She didn’t have to leave her neighborhood; she had to be the change she wanted to see. And her neighbors were ready for it. Even kids, when she gave out free samples at community events, came back for more. They asked questions. They said it was tasty. They wanted to know what turmeric was.

Today, Ujima Refresh, a juice company whose label states that it’s “Buckeye born, Buckeye bred,” is nearly off and running. This is not your $15, designer juice. It’s reasonably-priced, supremely fresh, healthy nectar for those who’ve never tasted truly fresh juice before. Juice that’s not off-putting to the palate of a novice who may have grown up on fried foods.

“Ujima is a Kwanzaa principle that you reflect on in preparation for the New Year,” explains Butts. “Ujima is the third principle of Kwanzaa, and it is collective work and responsibility. My premise in naming the business Ujima Refresh is that it is our collective work and responsibility to refresh our community. I’m just taking the angle of healthy food. That’s just my angle.”

 

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where to from here?

Butts recently wrapped up a super successful ioby campaign that will fund three upcoming educational community popup juice demos. Keep an eye on Ujima’s Facebook page for up to date info on these events, the first of which will be in February.

Meanwhile, Butts is actively searching for a retail space in Buckeye, and aims to have one secured by the end of 2017, leading into Kwanzaa. Ideally, the business will move into one of Buckeye’s vacant storefronts, serving up commercial vibrancy, employment opportunities, and local pride along with its delish juices. Production space is also on the to-do list, and Butts is currently seeking investors, as she works on developing a business model that will include a bottle return deposit program, on-site composting, energy efficient appliances and lighting, and, of course, local sourcing of fruits and vegetables.

All of which makes those juices sound even tastier to 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.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Do you have a project in mind for your neighborhood? Hesitating on getting started, because you need a green light from city officials, and you’re loath to ask? Fear not! ioby Action Corps is here! Click over here to learn from the pros about “getting to yes” with city officials. If they did it, so can you.

Ask Action Corps: Need help getting to “yes” with city officials?


Our lunchtime webinar series, Ask Action Corps, brings the real-life challenges of resident leaders to a panel of ioby Action Corps experts who offer strategies, tools, and resources to help overcome them. At the end of each webinar, viewers can chime in with their own questions!

ioby Action Corps is our awesome network of experts who help local leaders succeed in making positive change in their neighborhoods. They’re here, they’re ready for action, and they want to help YOU implement your project! Visit ioby.org/actioncorps for more info.

 

Ask Action Corps #1: Green Triangles

On December 20, 2016, Cathy Marcinko, Grant Development Coordinator at Le Bonheur Community Health and Well-Being in Memphis, and leader of The Green Triangles Project, kicked off our inaugural webinar as our first featured leader. (Full disclosure: Cathy is also an Action Corps expert!) She was joined by a panel of three Action Corps members: Justin Garrett Moore, Executive Director of the NYC Public Design Commission and an ioby board member; Tommy Pacello, President of the Memphis Medical District Collaborative; and Janet Boscarino, Executive Director of Clean Memphis, Inc.

The premise

The diverse Memphis neighborhood of Vollintine Evergreen boasts many appealing features, including lovely historic homes and the V&E Greenline, the city’s first rails-to-trails project. But residents are rallying behind one amenity that could use some sprucing up: the raised asphalt traffic triangles in the sprawling intersection of University Street and Jackson Avenue. While the triangles were likely green spaces when the area was developed in the 1920s, they’ve since been paved over, become deteriorated, and are now an eyesore in this otherwise verdant neighborhood.

Cathy is leading the charge—with VECA, the Vollintine Evergreen Community Association—to remove the asphalt from the triangles and fill them with fresh soil and drought-resistant plants. Through their Green Triangles Project ioby campaign, the group quickly raised the $6,215 they budgeted to get the project off the ground; worked with residents and a landscape architect to develop the triangles’ new design; and had their plans approved by the Memphis City Engineer’s Office. All systems go, right?

 

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The problem

Well, not quite. While the City Engineer did give their okay, they also sent VECA a contract to sign that included two unexpected (and major) requirements: the group would need to 1) buy commercial general liability insurance totaling about $4.5 million!, and 2) lease the land the triangles are on from the city for a year. The premiums for insurance policies like these are too hefty for VECA to afford, and the group is not prepared for the additional responsibility of becoming leaseholders.

So, panel: how can VECA persuade Memphis city government to “lighten up” on these parts of the contract so The Green Triangles Project can proceed?

 

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The possibilities

Our Action Corps members put their heads together and offered Cathy these thoughts and suggestions:

  • This contract might have been drawn up using boilerplate text and not pertain as specifically to The Green Triangles Project as it seems. If so, the simplest way forward might be to reply to the city and say, “We like this contract generally, but think it’s a bit overbroad. Would you consider a slightly simplified version?” Then attach the contract with the insurance and lease provisions removed, and see what they say.
  • Try to get a meeting with Vollintine Evergreen’s city council rep, county commissioner, and/or other local elected officials to explain the project and ask for their support. During the meeting(s), you can cite your crowdfunding donors to prove community buy-in: “X number of residents in this district think this is a great idea—they’re even putting their own money behind it!”
  • If you have trouble scoring face time with electeds, try:
    • Approaching junior rather than more senior reps,
    • Asking local nonprofit organizations who’ve undertaken similar projects if they can help connect you with any representatives they worked with,
    • Illustrating how Green Triangles fits in with one or more existing city goals or initiatives—for example, Memphis’s Blight Elimination Program.
  • Memphis’s new Adopt-A-Park program could serve as a useful reference/precedent to bring up with city officials, as it does not require liability insurance—just a “hold harmless” waiver. In Indiana, Indianapolis’s Adopt-A-Median program has succeeded for about 20 years using similar parameters (and they post their partnership agreement online). Both of these programs could help to convince Memphis’s legal counsel that a big insurance mandate might not be necessary.
  • Have some sympathy. While this might seem like a simple project to residents, it’s part of a complex web of regulations and responsibilities that the city has to consider and is ultimately accountable for. So know that they do want to help you help your neighborhood, and help this project pave the way for other ones like it in the future. They just need to be sure all their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in the process.
  • Consider framing Green Triangles as a pilot or demonstration project. This can help the city see it as a low-stakes trial run of something different—not a commitment to change.
  • Look for nearby “anchor institutions” to partner with: they can be great allies. In this case, Rhodes College is right across the street from the triangles. Consider approaching them, presenting the project, and asking if they would agree to support it. “Support” could be as simple as lending their name to your list of backers, or they might be keen to help with the implementation work or ongoing maintenance efforts. You might as well go knocking and see what you find!

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AWESOME PROJECT: Holiday flair for a nearly forgotten park in Queens

When Fay Hill was a young girl growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, her father often brought her along to the community meetings he loved to attend. He always worked hard alongside his neighbors to make life better for everyone, and saw no reason why his daughter shouldn’t come along for the ride. Community involvement was just a part of Hill’s upbringing – it’s how life was. No surprise that she, now a retired legal secretary in Queens, NY, grew up to carry on the tradition.

“My father was an advocate for our community when we were growing up, and I used to go to all of his meetings, and see how people do things, and their achievements, and I decided: well, when I retire, why should I sit home and watch television?  I was always active. Why sit home? I’m a retired legal secretary and I never worked so hard since I retired. But it’s a love work, and it keeps me energized.”

What an understatement! Hill is an active member of her local Community Board 13, a mover and a shaker in various church organizations, and a singer extraordinaire and tour-booking agent for the Senior Theater Actors Repertory (STAR). She’s a friend of her local library, and regularly travels to Albany for AARP meetings. She shows no signs of slowing down, and even recently joined Toastmasters to hone her public speaking skills!

 

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What does it take to revitalize a forgotten park?

Near and dear to Hill’s heart these last four years is the revitalization work taking place at Springfield Park, just a few blocks from her home. It’s a public space that almost fell through the cracks, but is making a big comeback, thanks to the efforts of volunteers like Hill, as well local officials and non-profit organization Partnerships for Parks.

“I’m here living in my house for 39 years,” says Hill. “I’ve seen where Springfield Park was a nice park, and it came to be a deplorable park. There were junk carts and addicts there. After we started restoring the park, I met a woman jogging there and she stopped me and she said, ‘oh, the park is so beautiful now. I’m living here 30 years, and I didn’t allow my kids to come in the park.’ Now we can’t find room – it’s like Central Park in Springfield Gardens! Beautiful lake, beautiful flowerbeds. I’ve seen couples come around and take pictures.”

 

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[Volunteers for Springfield Park, Inc. Board Members  Gennie Vann, Fay D. Hill, and  Veronica Bellan]

 

Lighting up the darkness

Rarely has that transformation shone more brightly than it did just last week, at the 4th annual Springfield Park Christmas Tree Lighting. The Christmas trees planted in the park in 2013 and 2014 had both died, and then the lights had been stolen right off of the tree in 2015, but Hill wasn’t fazed. Progress isn’t always linear, and it isn’t always speedy. So she moved right on ahead, working with park management this year to get the hardiest tree possible, taking a special trip to the store to stock up on lights and decorations (once they found out what the decorations were for, everyone at the store wanted to help Hill find what she needed), working with her teammates to make up fliers, and dropping them off at local grocery stores, shelters, and libraries.

 

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The event was an overwhelming success; the beautiful Christmas tree’s lights came on at dusk, and then there was singing and merrymaking. Hill and her team had been able to raise enough money to give a gift basket to every child who showed up in the cold: scarves, earmuffs, socks, coats, PJs, book bags, candy canes. Neighbors left smiling and called Hill to thank her in the days after.

“This year was better because of the fundraising,” Hill explains. “At the last minute, ioby kind of pushed me for the last two days of the campaign. I hate to solicit, and I didn’t know I had this in me, but I was able to raise most of the money in the last two days. And most of the people to be honest, they didn’t want to go online to make donations, so they decided to give me a check or cash. One person gave me five dollars and joking around said don’t let me get the IRS on you!” It was an awakening for Hill, veteran activist and crowdfunding newbie. She knows now that it’s okay to ask, and that her neighbors want to give. She’s got one more neighborhood-building tool in her toolbox, and we can’t wait to see how she’ll use it just around the corner, in 2017.

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.

 

Check out 2016 in video, numbers, and ioby Leaders’ own words here: ioby.org/2016.