That was the question posed during one of the sessions at CFC 2013, the national conference of Community Foundations of Canada held in Winnipeg from June 6 to 8. The session, called Transforming Community; Awakening the Power of Neighbourhoods, featured presentations by Lidia Kemeny and Meseret Taye of The Vancouver Foundation.
Such a question is certainly important to those who have donated time and energy to their community; to those who know the frustration of bureaucracy, the brick wall of indifference, and the surprise of power issues that emerge.
The Vancouver Foundation answered this question using a simple analysis: when you know the name of your neighbour there is less crime, you are healthier, and you are more resilient in a time of crisis. To have a healthy city you must have healthy communities.
The simplicity of this information reveals how complex the knowing of our neighbours can be.
The Vancouver model – and the Hamilton model as well, as was revealed during the discussion — both use the idea that small steps can create big change. Both foundations provide modest project grants or mini-grants to organizations in their communities. Projects such as block parties, art classes, sports nights, and knitting clubs that promote inter-generational, inter-cultural, and social interaction are funded. Many of these projects require as little as $300.
With an eye to sustainability, The Hamilton Foundation looks at projects that are extremely local and don’t necessarily create an end product. They have promoted Jane’s Walks where they look for the positives in neighbourhoods.
The walks are named after Jane Jacobs, a transplanted New Yorker who made her home in Toronto in the late 1960s. It was a time of revolution in the urban planning community where local residents became the valued experts about their neighbourhoods. The idea behind Jane’s Walks is that local residents create a short tour of their neighbourhood highlighting its positive and wondrous attributes, for the community at large to see.
They also have residents who identify challenges with red and yellow codes. An issue such as drug dealing in the school yard is an ongoing yellow code. But, if the neighbours see it happening right now, it is a red code. This means the community is not going to tolerate illegal activity, which is an important aspect of creating a stable neighbourhood.
They have property angels who help their neighbours cut their grass, paint their steps, or shovel their snow. The mix of ages in any neighbourhood means that some people are less able to care for the exterior of their house. The property angels flag those who appear not able to do so and just do it for them.
There was also consensus at this session that community newspapers are important to sustainability. The community needs to be able to learn, be informed and express themselves locally. This is especially true for areas that have traditionally been marginalized by the greater community. Winnipeg’s Community News Commons was cited as one such local voice that promotes the community’s sustainability.
The Community Foundations of Canada conference, which for 2013 had the theme Inspiring Smart and Caring Communities, attracted 600 delegates from around the world, mostly people working in the philanthropic sector for community foundations and other non-profit agencies.
There are 191 community foundations in Canada including 48 in Manitoba, that fund projects in local areas. There are 1700 community foundations in the world. About 40 delegates at the conference came from foundations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.