Three Neighborly Goals for 2020

If I’m being honest, I’ve not been particularly good at reflecting on past years or setting goals for upcoming years. It’s not that I think that these practices are useless; in fact, I think that they can be incredibly telling: showing us how we’ve leveraged our time, interests, and resources well in the past while moving us to consider how we might leverage them even better in the future.

As someone with an interest in how we engage, build, and support our cities, I’ve come up with three neighborly goals that I intend to pursue throughout 2020. For me, they are small enough to be attainable yet significant enough to require some intentionality. While I don’t want to overestimate their potential impact, I suspect that, if I follow through on them, they will shape me—and the localized work that I get up to—in unique ways that I can’t fully realize at the beginning of this new year.

1. Celebrate More Good Stories

If you were looking at my city of London, Ontario from the outside, you’d probably stay away. We’ve been criticized as backward, broken, and boring, and while some of the accusations have merit, they don’t tell the full story.

Throughout 2019, there was much to celebrate in my city: we built and opened our first flex street through the heart of our downtown; we saw more affordable housing get built; we welcomed new local businesses; and we had city-wide conversations about neighborliness, placemaking, and urban issues. These are just a few of the stories that had wide-reaching traction; they don’t include the small, neighborly actions that occurred throughout my city: from block parties and potlucks to porch concerts and play groups. While these small acts of neighborliness often go unnoticed, they are—over the long-term—having a cumulative impact on the places that they occur in, creating shared meaning between neighbors and nudging us toward the people we share proximity with.

When we are attentive—looking closely at our places and listening to the stories that are emerging from them—we start to notice the hopeful, inspiring, and impactful things that are occurring all around us. John McKnight, co-author of The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods, says it this way:

“Stories are the way that communities know things; studies are the way that institutions know things.”

While our cities have plenty of complex and urgent issues to address—and London is certainly no different—we would be remiss to not celebrate the ways that citizens, collectives, city-officials, organizations, and local businesses are toiling for the common good. Whenever I’ve taken the time to be attentive to what is transpiring in my city, I’ve been encouraged by the people, the projects, and the ideas that are addressing injustice, cultivating community, and making our city a more welcoming, interesting place to inhabit. In 2020, I want to celebrate more of these stories to remind myself, and the people around me, that—while we have a long way to go—effective work is occurring all around us, that it is making a difference, and that it deserves to be acknowledged.

2. Become More Disruptable

“I’m beginning to realize that when I structure my life with little-to-no margin for disruption, I’m setting myself up to miss out on the spontaneous, meaningful things that are happening all around me.”

I’m beginning to realize that when I structure my life with little-to-no margin for disruption, I’m setting myself up to miss out on the spontaneous, meaningful things that are happening all around me. 

Whenever I’ve created enough space, in my daily rhythms, to be disrupted by my neighbors and by the compelling things that are occurring throughout my city, I’ve consistently encountered inspiration, encouragement, and connection—all of which have the power to enhance and shape our lives in the places that we call home.

While productivity is important, disruption has a way of opening up avenues for life-giving relationships to be deepened, for collaborative opportunities to arise, for creativity to be co-inspired between neighbors, and for people to be truly seen, heard, and known. It is in these moments that we will become increasingly aware of how much we have to lose if we pursue productivity at the expense of a deeper presence in our neighborhoods and cities.

3. Collaborate with New People

If you are anything like me, you have a core group of people that you tend to work with on place-based projects. This is not always a negative thing, of course. Over time, you get the opportunity to understand one another in beneficial ways—learning how best to utilize the passions, skills, and resources that you, as a group, collectively bring to the table.

While familiarity can be advantageous, I can’t help but recognize that there are so many other people who are doing localized, intriguing work throughout my neighborhood and city. Whether I’ve met them in passing, know someone who knows them, or get a snapshot of what they are up to via Twitter and Instagram, my hope is to be around a table with a number of these people at some point this year, sipping a caffeinated beverage and hearing more about their story, their longings, and their work. If the only thing that comes out of these conversations is a broader network of connection and the chance to hear from my fellow citizen, it’s an easy win; that said, I suspect that many of these conversations could translate into collaboration either in the immediate or over the long-term. 

I’m discovering that, if I’m not careful, working with the same people can be a good way to miss out on the collaborative potential, the additional skills, and the new insights that come with a broader network of place-based instigators and agitators.

Whether we are ready for it or not, 2020 has arrived, and with it comes plenty of opportunity for neighborly activity in our cities. Here’s to telling more stories, becoming more disruptable, and broadening our networks over the next year!

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