The secret to a successful local improvement project
At Verdunity, we talk a lot about the role that cheap, low-commitment, tactical projects can play in creating the cities that we want to be a part of. Specifically, our Cultivating Community Framework recommends focusing on aligning people and existing resources in order to achieve our desired outcomes. So, say you want to do a tactical project of neighborhood cleanup in your own community. How do you make your community project successful?
I’ve learned a lot in the last few years through my Community Engagement Initiative, ReForm Shreveport [Ed. note: you may have heard them on an episode of our Go Cultivate! podcast], about how to answer those questions. For your community project to be successful, it means finding partners who share an investment—whether that be skills, time, or money—in the same geographic area you want to do a project, or care about the same issue you are trying to address.
In Shreveport, the projects we’ve been involved in wouldn’t have had half the success they did without the many partners that helped out. A boy scout troop stationed in Highland Park, the same park that we've spent the last two years improving, provided volunteers for the event and tools that we needed for our projects. When it came to bigger improvements like a new walking path or playground, the City of Shreveport had bond money set aside for the area we wanted to improve, so we found ways to engage the neighborhood by surveying the neighbors about what improvements they wanted in their park. It was easy to get support from the City and our parks department since they were also responsible for the area we were trying to improve.
For our Common Parklet project, we turned to Shreveport Common, a non-profit group advocating for redevelopment and promotion of the arts in a nine-block area had already invested many years of work near our project. We were able to partner with them and Give for Good in a yearly fundraising campaign to raise money to make a pop-up park, a space that would provide a safe space to gather in an area prime for redevelopment. So, we found some improvements that our partners helped us implement in a way that met the outcomes each group wanted to see.
In keeping with the park theme, the last project I’ll mention is the Film Prize Parklet (pictured at the top of the page). One of Shreveport’s local festivals closes down several downtown streets during the fall, and we took advantage of that to do our own on-street project in downtown Shreveport. We made use of physical resources from the community in the pop-up park—plants from a local nursery, cornhole games from a local brewery, chairs and tables from residents, and picnic tables from our local parks department. We also found some local vendors, namely a local clothier and record store, to sell some of their products and add to the activity in our newly created space.
If you want to make a successful local project, find local partners who are already invested in the area you’d like to improve. There are so many people who already care about your neighborhood and city, and can help you achieve the goals you’d like to see! If you can successfully utilize other folks’ shared investments, you’ll have a much greater chance of seeing your community project take off. But don’t forget that you’re a partner in this work as well; don’t be shy about putting your own creativity into the project, so you can make your own mark on your neighborhood and city, too.
If community partnerships are your sort of thing, we’d recommend listening to our interviews with Joanna Taft of the Harrison Center and Jim Walker of Big Car. Both of these local heroes happen to be based in Indianapolis, and they each share with us what their partnerships look like – and what kinds of challenges those those can also bring.