Create Community: Invest

Well, we have reached our final installment of our Create Community series.  This particular topic has meant so much to me simply because community is what makes life so enjoyable.  When I think about the community of people in our lives, they bring such a richness and value to the life we live.  Each person brings something different: their heritage, their culture, their faith, their experiences.  These things deepen our overall life experience.

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As each chapter of your life begins and ends, you have hopefully found a community within each chapter.  Memories of sitting in an open air restaurant my first night in the middle of Honduras still remain fresh.  I had accepted my first job teaching at The American School of Tegucigalpa, Honduras as the secondary music teacher.  Meeting the other American teachers was reassuring (we were certainly all in the same boat moving out of the country to Central America), but I quickly realized how much their backgrounds and experiences were going to enrich my life.

Not only did I immediately see the addiction that could come in traveling the world for work, but I realized that some people are Movers and some people are Stayers.  If you are a Mover, does that mean you aren’t good at investing where you live while you live there?  Are Stayers the ones who always volunteer and commit to their town?

Consider our most recent natural disasters: Hurricane Harvey and Irma and now the wildfires in California.  So many of us don’t actually live in these places, but what if you did?  Would you permanently leave if a hurricane destroyed your home?  It might be easy to say you would leave if you have never had to make that choice.  But for those who do, would you give up your neighborhood, your friends, your coworkers, your home?

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Melody Warnick actually found neither Movers or Stayers to be consistently higher on place attachment.  It really was a personal commitment.  As she said, “Tornado?  Wildfire?  Crime?  Blight?  Sooner or later, every city struggles.  What we locals do next, after the disaster, is a key measure of how place attached we really are.  How loyal will we be when things go wrong?”

While interviewing people who had experienced and survived a disaster, she was delighted to see her theory of attachment continue.  A professor of political science and urban affairs from Northeastern University studied the tsunami that killed almost 16,000 people in Japan in 2011.  About forty minutes separated the first tremors of the earthquake from the 30 foot waves resulting from the earthquake.  Most interestingly was that the death rate along the coast varied widely, some villages zero and some nearly 10 percent.

Not only were the stronger communities the ones with the higher survival rate, but because of their social cohesion, they were the quickest to rebuild.  The infirm or elderly more than likely had friends, family, or caretakers who were concerned about them enough to seek them out and rescue them.  Second, they had established relationships so that people knew to go find them.  You usually don’t build relationships in a crisis, but before one happens so that when it does, you are looking out for each other.

Particularly for major cities, excitement and energy are often the draw, but they also can be incredibly transient.  If you continue to live like you are waiting for the next thing, you certainly won’t be able to experience the true benefits of place attachment right now.  Even if your current situation is for a short time, you must engage and invest to get the most out of your experience.

That being said, Americans are more mobile now than ever before.  Caring for ailing family can bring you back to your hometown.  A new job can take you across the country.  Pursuit of a relationship may draw you to new cities.  Your overall experience will completely depend on you.  If you want to make the most and enjoy the full pleasure of a place, engage, invest and create wonderful memories where you are.  And if you want to have good neighbors, then be a good neighbor.

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Action Steps

  1.  Long time Stayers: Continue to get to know your town and the people in it.  Don’t neglect the newcomers.  Engage with those around you.  Find new ways to give back to your community.
  2. Transient Movers: Don’t forget your richest experience will come if you invest and give freely with the time you are given.  Make the most by exploring, creating new opportunities and sharing your experience with others.  The richness of your experiences will possibly inspire others to do the same.
  3. Those considering a move: Make a list of all the things you have loved (and hated) from each place you’ve lived.  Consider place attachment behaviors (walk ability, volunteer opportunities, independent stores/shopping, beautiful nature, good restaurants, healthy political scene, creative activities and events). Choose your new home in a place that covers most of your loves if possible.  Let your realtor will worry about the other things that they deem important like schools, safe neighborhoods and ability for resale.

I would love to hear your thoughts on why you have chosen to be a Stayer or a Mover.  How have you engaged with your community making your attachment stronger?  How has this Create Community series changed your thinking about where you live?

For the rest of the Create Community series, click here.

All quotes and facts have been directly stated from Melody Warnick’s book “This is Where You Belong.

Create Community: Get Creative

Our Create Community series is coming to a close.  Next week will be our final post in the series and I hope that you have found it interesting as well as helpful.  Getting creative (though you might not consider yourself this way) is such an important part of place attachment in your community.

Let’s imagine for a moment you’ve lived in your town for just over six months.  You see a sign passing the outdoor mall that they are hosting a Farmer’s Market tonight.  You don’t have plans, it’s a Friday night and you’d love an excuse to get outside and see what the rest of your community does on the weekend.  Later that evening, you grab your crew and head toward the mall.

What you discover is very exciting.  Not only is there a wide variety of farmers with quite the spread of fresh local produce, but there are also stands selling local meats, cheese, baked goods and fresh cut flowers.  Even the local coffee shop is jumping in selling their specialty brew.  Local college students playing music adds to the ambiance and tons of people are milling around.  Then your spouse hands you a flier someone just handed him showcasing the live music that will kick off in less than an hour in the outdoor amphitheater.  Your kids tug at your shirt pointing to the food trucks just beyond the stands and you quickly realize dinner has already been served.  You look at your spouse and think…jackpot.

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This “dream” scenario happens in all types of towns and cities all over America.  But do you think that your farmer’s market was started simply because people needed something to do on a Friday night?  Do parks exist simply so kids can burn off energy?  Well, that, but also so neighborhoods can be cohesive.  If you have been here any length of time, you hopefully have realized that community doesn’t just happen.  It is built with thought and strategic planning.  And all that thought and planning was done by someone who wanted to create community.  Your town was put together, planned by people who cared enough to raise their hand and say, “I’ll do it.”

I have certainly had my frustrations with my neighborhood.  One neighbor introduced herself to me when we first moved in.  One.  Growing up, our neighborhood had a welcoming committee who introduced themselves to new neighbors and then introduced them to others, making them feel welcome.  Thinking that was normal, my mom kindly reminded me that the committee also planned the Easter egg hunt and the Memorial Day parade and the cookie exchange.  But that “committee” was really made up of two people who did most of the heavy lifting.

Author Melody Warnick said, “The world, I realized, is full of people who say, ‘That would be fun.’  What it needs is more people who say ‘Let’s give it a whirl.’  Like everyone in my city’s history who had built each thing I love here, I wanted to create something cool in this town.  I wanted to become a doer.”

Now I realize not everyone is an event coordinator.  But if you have an idea, get creative!  Do your due diligence and mention your idea to someone who could make it happen.  If they can’t, they might know the person who could and (most importantly) you can help them accomplish it.  When you agree to help with the school book fair, you begin to care a little bit more about the kids who are coming through the stacks.  You might even discover another volunteer lives just down the road from you (strengthening your ties to your community in the meantime).

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Did you know this was even a thing?  Our local library does this every summer with the kids.  So fun!

If you are missing an experience from your childhood or heard about an event you were interested in but were unable to participate, consider attempting it in a small scale where you live.  Maybe have a chalk drawing contest on the sidewalk on your street.  Have a block party and invite people to bring a dish to pass to get to know more neighbors.  Host a bridge/bunco/poker group once a month and invite someone new each month.  Maybe offer a father/son running club or a mother/daughter tea once a month.  If the whole idea scares you, start small and think 1..2..3.

One: create an event.
Two: plan two activities that coincide with the idea.
Three: invite at least three people.

Whether you choose your street, neighborhood, school, church, workplace, or even your town as a whole, your town needs you to be creative and help make it what it is.  Be a part of where you live, and you will love it all the more.

Action Steps

1.  Investigate your town’s art events such as concerts, dance shows, festivals, and even park district functions.

2.  When standing in line waiting to check out somewhere, ask the person next to you what they love about your town.  Or even easier, ask their favorite restaurants/movie theater/parks/activities in town.  Locals always have the best suggestions and you just might learn something new.

3.  Take the plunge and plan the event.  Start small or go big.  If you are the point person, people are much more likely to join in and help if they know they won’t have to do it alone.  Your excitement will be contagious.  If you don’t want to take the lead, ask around and see if anyone else would want to do it with you.  You just might find some takers.

4.  The next time you attend an event in your town, take the time to thank someone who is working to make it happen.  Expressing your appreciation not only rewards those who are working to make your community better, it reminds you that many people build the community where you live.

If you would like to catch up on the rest of our Create Community, click here.

Is there an event that you remember from childhood that you loved?  What activity or event in your town have you really enjoyed?  What do you wish your town offer that it currently does not?

 

Create Community: Get More Political

The phrase “Get More Political” might have caught you by surprise.  In a time when there seems to be lots (and LOTS) of screaming from all sides, I really didn’t want to get into this conversation.  At all.  But, in learning more about what Melody Warnick learned in the political environment where she lives I realized it is so much more about the people.

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But shouldn’t it always be about the people?  Kindness often comes when human beings learn more about each other.  When you learn that someone in the opposite political camp also grew up in your home town and you both love the same college pizza joint, they seem a bit more human.  “It’s really easy to have a negative perception of government when you don’t know the people behind the scenes and don’t know how things operate.  But it’s hard to fuss too much about the horrible recycling program when you meet the five people who operate our recycling program and see how hard they work.”

Especially in this day and age, it is SO EASY to just hop onto Facebook: “How are you feeling today?”, this very innocent question posed by Mark Zuckerberg.  You have been annoyed by a windy day blowing your trash and recycling all over the neighborhood.  (I have had this exact frustration.)  People feel the freedom to post every annoyance known to man.  Are the waste removal workers to blame for the weather??  Have these same said complainers walked up to the trash and recycling workers and introduced themselves?  Do they know their names?  Have they offered their appreciation?  Truthfully these kind gentlemen (who so kindly wave to my son each week) don’t know my name, but if these workers knew how much we appreciated their work, don’t you think they would do their job even better?

Studies show that Americans feel more confident in local government than national; in one poll 72 percent of Americans said they trusted their city government to do the right thing while only 19 percent said the same of federal government.  I find that so interesting since so few people even vote during those smaller, localized elections!  Even in fiercely debated political battles during an election year, only around 60 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot!  In mayoral races from 2008-2011, no major city mobilized more than 45 percent of its voters.  In a few places, including San Antonio and El Paso, turnout was in the single digits.

And yet.  Do you vote at all possible elections, including smaller, local elections?  Do you realize that these elections are the ones that will likely most dramatically affect your daily life where you live?  The problem?  We trust our leaders (local and federal) just enough to stay completely uninvolved until we are angry about something.  If I asked any local government worker what is the best part of their day, I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to say fielding calls from angry residents.

I will be honest with you.  I can’t remember the last time I voted in a smaller, local election.  But this will be the last time.  In following this Create Community series, I signed onto my local town Facebook page and they even had an app.  Some of the feeds are citizens there just to complain.  Some complaints are valid.  So to shift the conversation a bit, I asked a simple question: What do you LOVE about our town?  If you had visitors and wanted to share the best of our town, where would you take them?

The answers were great!  Some of the places and restaurants I had been to and others were new to me.  I’ve lived here almost 7 years and I still didn’t know everything about my tiny suburb in Chicago!  Also, people chimed in saying they grew up here and never plan to leave.  That gave me a boost of confidence that not only is my town a great town, there are others out there who love it too.

While interviewing a local  government employee, she said there  are a couple things to keep in mind.  First, remember that the people you are calling to complain to probably live on your street, take their kids to the same park and frequent the same movie theater.

Second, don’t assume.  Anything.  Don’t assume tax dollars are being spent on something you don’t agree with.  Don’t assume workers spend their time trying to waste your money.  This solves not one problem and opens up the need for lots of required explaining because you made an unfair assumption.  Don’t be that person.

Lastly, ask questions.  If you don’t like something and would like it to change, ask why the decision was made in the first place.  Ask them to consider why you don’t like the town’s policy.  If they can’t change it, ask if there are alternate solutions to the problem.  The staff are there to answer questions, that is their job.  And maybe, just maybe, you will be heard and something will change.  And if not, start showing up and getting to know the people who make the decisions.  Your opinion will matter a whole lot if it will get your vote at the next election.

Get more political doesn’t necessarily mean shoving a sign in your yard supporting the next president, but it could.  But it also means caring more about where you live and who lives here.  I want to know that not only is my neighbor going to wave when they pull in the driveway from work, but they care enough about our town to learn about what needs to be done and then when they can, offer to help.

Action Steps

  1.  Follow your mayor and city councilors on social media.  Check to see if your town has an app or Facebook page and join.  (I was very pleasantly surprised to see the quality of our app.  It offered local events, officials-names and pictures, departments, news, requests and even daily deals!)
  2. Figure out when the next election is, do your research and vote!  Soap box: If you don’t vote, you’ve forfeited your right to complain.  Period.  (Soap box over)
  3. Check to see if your town offers a citizens academy/citizens institute/citizens college/neighborhood university.  It is a civic education program offered by the town government letting average residents take a look inside the inner workings of the town government.  A great way to see where your tax dollars actually go.
  4. If there is something in your town that is driving you crazy, a faulty light, a pothole, go to the city’s website and let them know.  I have a good friend who works for a city government for a very small town in Texas and she reminded me that the city relies on citizens to help keep their town working properly.  Just remember, it isn’t their fault the pothole is there and they will be the ones coordinating the repair.  So kind requests are much appreciated (rather than demands).  One particularly snowy winter, a snow plow completely bulldozed our mailbox leaving it laying down on the ground.  I notified the village and in less than a week it was not only fixed, but we were given completely new mailboxes with the appropriate numbers attached.
  5. Attend just one city council meeting.  You will appreciate the inner workings so much more afterward.  It might help you realized how much work (and how many people) it takes to make your town run well.

To see the rest of our Create Community series, click here.

 

Create Community: Eat Local Food

I cannot bring to mind anything that brings people together like food.  Food lets democrats and republicans, Christians and atheists, Bears fans and Packers fans come together and be civil.  Though my analogies are a bit dramatic, the sentiment is anything but.  When a friend is hurting and you have nothing to offer, you give bread and soup.  Meeting a stranger for the first time can cause a bit of anxiety, but a cup of coffee and a muffin seem to help bridge the gap.  It can be the ultimate peacemaker.

Thus, it is no surprise to me that one concept the attaches you to your home is eating.  There are those who eat to live and those of us who live to eat (certainly this evidence makes me guilty in this regard).  But if you are indifferent and forget to eat a meal (who are these people?!?!), even you have memories of a favorite meal with someone special or in a unique place.  One of the best ice breakers?  What is your favorite thing to eat off the Thanksgiving table?  Every person has a dish, and usually, a story to go with it.  That is why food is important.  It carries with it wonderful memories of people, of places that bring us happiness.

According to the National Restaurant Association, about one in ten jobs in the United States is in a restaurant.  When a restaurant is doing well, owners spend money locally helping improve local economy.  That, in turn, draws visitors from elsewhere, again, boosting the economy.  Think about what Food Network and shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives has done for little towns all across America!  It has even created another option of a vacation destination beyond resorts, shopping malls and amusement parks.

Cities and towns are even fighting to be known for a certain type of food.  Kansas City?  Barbeque.  Louisiana? Beignets and jambalaya.  Chicago?  Deep dish pizza and our signature hot dogs.  Philadelphia?  Philly cheese steaks.  When a town becomes known for a certain type of food, people love the hunt for “the best burger in town.”  And for foodies, places like New York, Chicago, San Francisco are a dream come true.

Mariachis, laughter and lots of food paint vivid memories of my first nights in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I had just moved there with my friend and college roommate to teach at the local American school.  We were 22, fresh faced and excited for our new adventure with the added excitement of our first jobs.  Of all my experiences living there for two years, food was truly central to the experience.  Anafre (warmed beans and cheese served with tortilla chips), fried plantains and limonada (fresh squeezed lime juice with seltzer water) bring back memories of getting to know Honduran staff, fellow American travelers and the Honduran people.  Food was the way they invited us, and food was how we participated and learned about their culture.

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A French concept called terrior (“the taste of place”) was discovered by winemakers and establishes that a wine will taste like the place where it is grown.  The image of Meg Ryan in an old classic French Kiss comes to mind when thinking of this concept.  It also can be the same idea as a place being known for a specific produce: Georgia peaches, avocados from California, and Florida oranges, for example.

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The popularity of CSAs (community-supported agriculture programs) has brought greater attachment to towns all over the US.  In 1990, only 60 farms nationwide operated CSA programs.  In 2012, more than 12,600 farms did.  People who participate in CSAs are also more likely to be engaged in their towns than those who don’t.  “Seventy-one percent of civic agriculture participants volunteered in the community, compared to 48% of the general population.”  Studies have also shown that people who garden or farm have higher levels of neighborhood attachment.

Warnick interviewed Steven Schnell, a professor of geography at Kutztown State University in Pennsylvania.  He first noticed the power of story to connect food and place in, of all places, microbreweries.  They have exploded all over the US, but why?  Well, better beer, but also many of the microbreweries were utilizing names and packaging to reference local figures, sites or events.  It gave customers not only food and beer, but also a truly local experience.

Think about how the food you eat at home is distinctly local.  Where do you offer to take visitors so they, too, can have the true local experience?  Even simpler, what is your “best” in town?  What is your town known for and where is the best place to find it?  Not only will you continue to attach yourself to where you live, you get to enjoy the process as you go!

ACTION STEPS

  1. Find a restaurant in your town (NOT A CHAIN) and become a “regular”.  I’m not saying you’ll see Ted Danson suddenly serving your burger, but you might get to know the wait staff, owners and other locals.  Support local business, meet more neighbors, greater place attachment.  Win win win.  Don’t know where to start?  Google your town with “hidden gem”, “local”, “secret”, “neighborhood”, or “undiscovered.”
  2. Shop at your local farmers’ market or join a CSA.  LocalHarvest.org has a database of them or you can just search online using terms “farm share” or “CSA”.  Support local business, fresh/healthy food, greater place attachment.  Win win win.
  3. Try a one-week, “25-Mile Challenge”, eating only foods grown within 25 miles of your house.
  4. Plant a garden.  If this terrifies you, start REALLY small.  Maybe two herbs and one vegetable.
  5. Follow restaurants on social media.  Makes you aware of new menu items, promotions or even new openings.

If you would like to see the rest of our Create Community series, please click here.

All quotes and facts are from Melody Warnick’s research in This is Where You Belong.

What foods bring strong memories back to you?  Do you link certain foods with certain places you have lived or visited?  Have you ever participated in a CSA or visited a farmer’s market?  What did you like about it?

Create Community: Volunteer

Certainly you have heard of random acts of kindness.  You’ve probably seen the Christmas-themed lists to “get you in the mood” for the season.  There is even a website focused on just this idea where educators teach it in the schools.  They have highlighted World Kindness Day (November 13), Random Acts of Kindness Friday (November 24), Random Acts of Kindness WEEK (February 11-17)!  Who knew?!?

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Random acts of kindness are great but they are just that.  Random.  Those little things can make a big impact on someone’s day, but maybe you loved the feeling you got when you surprised someone so much that you wanted to do more.  I’d like to compare it to your casual and sporadic toss of cash into an offering plate as opposed to your committed, designated and regular donation amount to your church or organization of choice.   There is something very encouraging to the receiver about a giver who is committed and consistent in their donation (whether it be resources, money or time).

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Habitat for Humanity

Volunteering is such a win-win for you and your community.  Not only do you personally benefit from serving in a cause that you are passionate about, but (even more importantly) you serve the people in your community.  That in turn, makes where YOU live even better!

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Local food bank: Food prep

In 2005, researchers from the National Conference on Citizenship counted the number of nonprofits in 3,100 counties all over the country.  A short three years later, the recession hit and they discovered something astonishing:  The towns with a higher concentration of nonprofits were less likely to become unemployed than those with less nonprofits.  “Just one extra nonprofit per one thousand people added up to a half percentage point few out-of-work residents.”

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Together We Rise: Helping Kids in Foster Care

I was amazed when Warnick started noting some of the jobs citizens volunteered to do: put on a police uniform to help patrol the streets (Pasadena, CA), man the front desk of city hall (Naperville, IL!!), direct lost passengers around an airport (Philadelphia, PA), write parking tickets (Deer Park, TX).  Not only did these volunteers help their towns by saving them money, but they probably had a much deeper respect for the people who do those jobs on a regular basis.  Think about it: my first job was a waitress at a breakfast restaurant.  Not only do I have a great appreciation for a great server, I’m pretty aware of when they are not doing a good job.  And yes, I do tip pretty well.

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Ready.gov: Plan ahead for disasters

Not only can volunteering give your mood a boost and extra dopamine, it gives you a stronger “place identity.”  While I might identify myself as a teacher or parent in my town, my volunteering creates an opportunity to join the collective “we.”  Our profession and families offer us a sense of good pride, while our service of others can offer an even deeper sense of community pride.  This creates a  greater place attachment to our town.

This quote from Warnick states it perfectly: “The cycle goes something like this: You volunteer, so your town becomes better, which makes it easier to love, which makes you more attached to your town.  As Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him.'”

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Local cleanup after storm

Now, it has been proven that those people who stay in a town are much more likely to invest through volunteering (as opposed to those who move a lot).  Cities can be highly transient places, and yet, they often have the greatest needs.  A military wife once said to me that she had moved so many times and this one particular move was only going to be a one year term.  She hated the location of her new home and had no desire to connect.  But, when she did connect with a couple people in that community, she made lasting friendships that she deeply needed at the time.  Sometimes our shortest stays can have the greatest impact (on us and the community we serve).

So where do you serve?

Do you love someone who has been affected by cancer?  Do you love gardening and want to support the public gardens?  Are you a huge music fan and would enjoy supporting the symphony?  Maybe consider a Giving Circle.  Find a group of people that would all like to pool money together (so you can offer a larger donation) and then collectively choose what organization to support.  You can choose a different organization each year.  Whatever you choose, think about your passions and let that lead the way.  Not only will you enjoy the work, it will serve others and in turn make your home a better place to live.

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ACTION STEPS

  1.  Start with whatever brings you great joy or breaks your heart.  Is it homelessness in your area?  Check out shelters or soup kitchens.  Kids without good role models?  Consider Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Children in the foster care system?  Contact local agencies to see where you can help.  Even if you aren’t a church goer, consider contacting one in your area.  They often have a great list of what the specific needs are in your area.
  2. VolunteerMatch.org as well as the United Way has a wide variety of options for you to choose from.
  3. If nothing is seeming to fit, look at your town’s website.  They might need some volunteers.  Added bonus, you not only have a greater appreciation for the people who work in your town, you also get to see where your tax dollars are going.
  4. RandomActsofKindness.org has tons of ideas for quick little volunteer options.  These can often be fun for getting little kids involved too.
  5. If you’d like your donation to have possibly a bigger impact, check out GivingCircles.org to see how to get started.

*All quotes and facts come from Melody Warnick’s book This is Where You Belong.

If you would like to see the rest of our Create Community series, click here.

Have you ever volunteered anywhere?  What kind of service has been deeply rewarding for you?

Create Community: Enjoy Nature

Welcome to Fall and welcome back to our Create Community series.  This week we are talking about Enjoying Nature where you live.  If you missed our previous posts, be sure to check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

Do Something Fun

Let’s be honest, it is so easy to love where you live if it looks like this:

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Or maybe this:

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I have had the opportunity to live a lot of places and with varying climates.  Climate seems to be a BIG deal for me.  Living most of my life in the Midwest, I am very accustomed to the four seasons.  I did, however, live 2 years in Honduras as well as 2 years in south Florida where there are really only about 2 seasons: HOT and a-little-bit-cooler-than-hot.  There are reasons we take vacations in places that have weather very different from where we live.  It is refreshing and new and feels so good to get out of our norm.

When I grew up in Indiana, everyone complained about the grey winters (and they are pretty grey).  Living in Chicago, everyone complained about the bitter cold winters (again, pretty bitter cold, but much sunnier than east of Lake Michigan).  Hondurans and Floridians complained about their rain and heat.  All of these things are true.  A good family friend once said, “If everyone would stop complaining about the cold in Michigan, get the right coat and hat, you would actually LOVE living here!  There is just SO MUCH to do here, all year long!”

His enthusiasm caught my attention and he is completely right: Even south Floridians would enjoy the cold of winter if they had the proper gear.  Skiing and snow boarding, tubing, ice skating, snowmobiling, maybe even just hiking.  There is something almost sacred about the quiet that comes in the first blanketing snow of the winter season.  Conversely, Midwesterners could learn to appreciate the Florida summer heat once their blood thins a bit and then they have access to water almost everywhere.

Now keep in mind this is coming from someone who isn’t truly considered the outdoorsy type.  However, I grew up skiing and the exhilaration of standing at the top of a mountain is pretty incredible.  As an adult I’ve come to realize how the simple gift of fresh air can bring a new perspective on a particularly stressful or frustrating day.

“Studies have shown that spending time in green space improves immune function, lowers blood glucose levels in diabetics, boosts cognitive functioning and concentration, lengthens attention span and strengthens impulse control.  On the flip side, Dutch researchers have found that people who spend less time in nature have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, back pain, migraines, upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and more symptoms of ADD/ADHD.  Pulse rates and blood pressure soar along with their stress and anxiety.  They’re more likely to be clinically depressed.”

Warnick in her book found that in addition, green space builds social cohesion, the companion to place attachment.  It is what helps create the environment needed to live in the neighborhoods we hope to live in: friendly, inviting, welcoming.  There seem to be a better sense of community among people who are surrounded by green spaces and nature.

Another component which I haven’t mentioned yet is our access to water.  I was fortunate enough to grow up very near Lake Michigan (Indiana, Michigan and now Chicago).  My apartment in downtown Chicago actually had a view of the lake (if I craned my neck and smashed my face against the window).  But, when I got outside it was just a short two blocks walk to feel and smell the lake.  Standing at this exact spot at Fullerton and Lakeshore Drive in Chicago and I vividly remember thinking, “Is it possible to fall in love with a place?”

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What I really loved was the hustle and bustle of the city AND the proximity to Lake Michigan.  If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know my affection for Lake Michigan.  But I think I really realized how much I need to be near water when I moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  It is the capital city in the center of the country, hours from the oceans that touch each side.  Not only that, it is a city in the valley between mountains, so much so that you have to get special certification to land an airplane in the Tegucigalpa airport.  After living there a while (my whole stay was two years), I realized how much I was missing water.  We did make it to the coasts in Honduras and other central American countries which brought much peace for me but I never realized how much I missed it until I didn’t have easy access.

Where you grow up often determines where you will settle.  Of people who grew up on the coast, 73% later settle in a coastal area; 63% who grew up among forests settled in a similar landscape.  The nostalgia of where we grew up seems to draw us again when we settle.  It might not be the same town but might have the same landscape.  Enjoying nature where we live can give us that familiar echo of home.

Try looking at your town in a new light.  What about the green space do you notice?  Are the local parks beautifully landscaped?  Do you have walking/biking trails?  How is nature highlighted where you live?  Be sure to take some photos and share them using #createmycommunity.

Action Steps

  1. If you have kids, make it a goal to visit all the parks in your town.  It is a fun way to explore hidden pockets you wouldn’t otherwise know about.  If you don’t have kids (or dogs), grab a book or your coffee and just go sit at a bench and enjoy being outside.  Leave your phone behind!
  2. Check to see if your town has a local nature center.  They can give you information about trees, plants and flowers that grow in your area as well as wildlife.  Ours has hands-on activities for kids,  a preschool, rooftop garden, outdoor amphitheater, walking trails and they even sell local honey!
  3. This should be obvious, but take care of where you live.  Pick up trash and be diligent about not leaving behind garbage when visiting a local park.  Every outdoor space is only as good as the people who take care of it.

Create Community: Do Something Fun

We return to our Create Community series this week with the topic of Doing Something FUN!!  If you missed our previous posts, check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

The concept of doing something fun seems so easy but when you are new to an area (or have been doing the same thing for a decade) in your town, it might feel a little harder.  And of course, the concept of fun is certainly subjective.  The writer Emily St. John Mendel noted, “Edmund Wilson once wrote that no two people ever read the same book and I’ve come to believe that no two people ever live in the same city.”

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Think about how cities have branded themselves (usually with the strategies of companies to highlight the best of what the town has to offer).  You know a few of them: Pure Michigan has become the alluring slogan for all the lakefront views all over Michigan.  And you know the one from Vegas: “What happens here stays here.”  If you live in one of these, you might not agree or even like these slogans, but they have certainly drawn people to both of these examples.

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Warnick discovered in her research that a town is what you think it is.  Even if it isn’t as glamorous as the bigger/better town next door, you can rebrand your town even if only in your own mind.  She found a study done in 2008 by Gallup and the nonprofit Knight foundation called “Soul of the Community.”  They talked to adults in 26 cities to determine how emotionally attached they were to their communities and why they felt that way.  Polling was done in cities of varying sizes from one million down to less than 20,000.

What their study found was very interesting.  It wasn’t the good schools, affordable housing and safety (what most realtors use to sell you a new home) that created the strong sense of place attachment.  The three qualities that created the strongest sense of place attachment and place satisfaction?  Social offerings, aesthetics and openness.  When citizens feel like there are lots of things to do, it is beautiful to look at and welcomes all kinds of people, they are deeply attached to it.  Secondly, the more attached they were to their cities, the better the city did economically.

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So, if you have things in your town you enjoy doing (maybe even on a regular basis), it creates a sense of attachment to where you live.  If you don’t love where you live, consider investigating some new things in your town that you haven’t experienced before.  Maybe use Google to help you identify what are your town’s strengths.  Not every town is good at everything, but your town is certainly good at something.  Make it your mission to find out what they are.

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Warnick admittedly is not a sports fan.  At all.  But someone suggested to her she attend the local university football game.  I loved her thoughts on this, “In all these ways–intense loyalty, the group identity, the sense of ownership–sports fandom is oddly reminiscent of place attachment…This experiment helped me see the very real link between rooting for your hometown sports team and rooting for your hometown…They do it because they love their city and the team’s victory is the city’s victory.”

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Lastly, if you are still struggling to find things to do, create your own.  Find a local park and find a new routine there.  Pack a lunch.  Read a book.  Enjoy a hike.  Try one new local restaurant this month.  Maybe even consider attending the local football game.  Ultimately, your place attachment has everything to do with the positive memories you have in your town.  So do something fun!

ACTION STEPS

  1. Try to make a list of 10 local sites, historic landmarks, tourist attractions, parks, museums, statues and events.  Use Google or even Facebook to help you find some in your area if you need help.
  2. Inquire about any local festivals as they offer a great sense of community pride.  When you are shopping local, ask the shop owners if they are aware of special events.  Often they have a better awareness of the goings-on in your area.
  3. Even if you are still struggling, do what you love where you live.  Runner?  Find a local half-marathon.  Home chef?  See if any of the local shops offer cooking classes.  Book worm?  See if the book store offers book club and author events.

Should you decide to try a few new things, please use #createmycommunity so we can see what new activities you are enjoying!

 

Create Community: Be a good neighbor

The concept of a neighborhood has come to have an almost romantic feel for me.  My husband and I grew up in neighborhoods that ran into each other and both of us had what I would consider an ideal situation: lots of kids, friendly people and a lot of opportunities for pleasant social interaction.  In my neighborhood alone, we had a welcoming committee, Christmas cookie exchanges, a Memorial Day parade where we decorated our bikes and followed a fire truck up to the neighborhood pool and then celebrated the holiday with a carnival in the parking lot.  Oh, and we walked to school with all the kids on our street.  It felt almost…like Leave it to Beaver.

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When we bought our first home, I had so many dreams of what I hoped for in a house.  We were expecting our first child and I couldn’t wait to see what friendships our kids were going to make just a few doors down.  But a few months later, I still had yet to meet a single neighbor.  Thankfully, one evening this very kind woman walking her baby in a stroller crossed the street and introduced herself to me.  I was so grateful for her taking the initiative.  Less than a week later her husband walked over with a baby gift for our new little one.

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Neighbors used to be the first people you would befriend.  In the 1950s, 44 percent of neighbors socialized at least once a week.  Think parties, picnics, poker games and potlucks.  By 1971, it had dwindled to 24 percent and that number continues to plummet.  The internet certainly continues to claim to connect us and yet we are more disconnected than ever.  As a result, most Americans barely know a few neighbors by name and 28 percent know no one at all.

Those of us with children or pets have a built-in conversation starter.  But, if you don’t have those or truly get hives from initiating conversation, you might have a hard time meeting your neighbors.  Can you imagine, though, the benefit of wonderful neighbors??  Now, that lovely woman who introduced herself to me ultimately became a wonderful friend.  Our kids enjoy playing together and I am so thankful for her introducing herself to me.  We have since met some others who are more than just kind.  They let us borrow weed trimmers and ladders and even offer to help us plant our new bushes.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together and consider them close friends.

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If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know I was captivated by the book The Turquoise Table.  (Read my review here.)  Kristen Schell was tired of not knowing her neighbors so she decided to DO something about it.  She set up a picnic table in her front yard and just started to do life out there: reading, homework, dinner, snack time, puzzles and book club.  People started to notice and she created an entire movement out of it.

Then I heard about Neighbor’s Table (clearly I have a thing with the table…) and it literally took my breath away.  Sarah was new to Dallas, didn’t know a soul and wasn’t exactly sure how to meet people.  She knew she loved entertaining so she set up a table in her backyard and set a goal to invite 500 people to her table in one year.  FIVE HUNDRED.  She invited people she knew and people she didn’t.  To date, her website states she has hosted over 2500 people.

Community is made up of people who know and care about each other.  When studying civic engagement, Warnick learned that choosing between adding 10 percent more cops on the streets or 10 percent more citizens knowing their neighbors’ first names, you should always choose the latter, it is better for crime prevention.  Think about it: you will call someone if their garage is open and you have a relationship with them.  When people care about those around them, we have a better shot at keeping crime down and place attachment high.

Do we live in a perfect neighborhood?  Definitely not.  But I’m hoping it’s a work in progress.  I am to blame too for just pulling in the garage and not engaging outside of my home.  We love our home, but more importantly, we love that we share it with the people around us.  Consider challenging yourself with a couple of actions steps below to get to know your neighbors better.

To catch up on the rest of my Create Community series, click here.

Action steps
  1. Be bold.  Wave to a neighbor you don’t know.  Say, “Can you please remind me of your name?” if they have told you before.  Make a note in your phone so you don’t forget.  Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new neighbors before the end of next month.  Even if you have lived in your home for over a decade (or more!), there is probably someone you still don’t know.
  2. Celebrate national Good Neighbor Day on September 28.   Bake cookies or banana bread or invite people over for coffee.  My husband and I try to celebrate with our neighbors every year on the anniversary of the day we moved in to our home.  Nothing fancy, usually just a cookout.  It gives us a chance to tell our neighbors how much we appreciate them.
  3. If you see someone moving in, introduce yourself.  It is so nice to have a friendly face and a name to help you feel grounded in new territory.  Bring them a few takeout menus (you know you have a million).  And lend them your ladder when they need to borrow it.
  4. Need to get to know more and want a bigger bang for your buck?  A potluck is a great way.  Divide up everyone by last name and ask people to bring a dish to share.  Our park district will even provide road blocks, a climbing wall and kids train if you are throwing a block party.  My sister moved to a new neighborhood last year and hosted a neighborhood-wide Easter Egg hunt.  She also hosted a back-to-school party and will probably throw an end-of-school bash.  Too much?  Maybe just have a cocoa and cookies night and do an open house.  Like football or sports?  Host a tailgate (outside so there is little cleanup!).  If you are willing to host, so many more people are willing to jump in and participate or even help.  Someone just has to take the first step.  Let it be you.
  5. Finally, BE a good neighbor.  If you get someone else’s mail, take it as an opportunity to go meet that person.  Maybe bring their trash cans up to their house for them while you do yours.  Offer to help rake leaves or shovel the snow off driveways.  No one says you have to be best friends with your neighbors but everyone likes living next to a good neighbor.

If you decide to take any of these action steps, be sure to use #createmycommunity so we can celebrate with you!  Or, please share your ideas in the comments!

Create Community: Buy Local

Continuing our Create Community series, this week we will look at Buying Local.  If you missed our previous posts in the series, check them out here.

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Campaigns for buying local are fairly familiar to me, and I could easily see how buying local would invest money back into the place where I live.  However, I had never considered that it would further connect me to where I lived.

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Think for a moment about the last time you moved (even if that was just into the dorm in college).  Where did you go to get your towels and laundry detergent?  Did you run to Target or Walmart?  There certainly is the benefit of the comfort level with these stores.  Since many are laid out in the same way, you know exactly where to find the shower curtains and brooms.  Not to mention, when you go this route, it would probably be cheaper than a locally owned store.

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BUT, did you know that for every job at a “bottom price” chain (like Target and Walmart), it eliminates 1.4 jobs locally potentially closing those locally owned stores.  What initially seems like a potential job boom for a town slowly degrades the community’s wages and therefore its overall business success.

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(For example, Warnick cited a study that showed big-box retailers returning 14% of its earnings back to the local economy while the rest was shipped back to the faraway corporate offices.  In contrast, independent businesses can circulate 52% of the revenue locally.  In simpler terms, if you spend $25 at a local boutique, $14 of it will stay where you live.  At a big chain, only $3.50.)

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Warnick stated, “Cities that support local businesses have stronger personalities, and it’s easier to become attached to our city when we know exactly who and what it is.”  Just think about it: what is the allure of that quaint coffee shop in the little resort town?  You like it because it is different than Starbucks.  Why do you love the children’s boutique in the neighborly part of the city?  You love it because the gift you are buying your friend is special and unique and not something she’ll throw in her cart when she’s picking up a prescription.  What is it about the clothing store that you like better than Macy’s?  It brings you back because it is often better quality and the people who sell it to you care whether or not you buy something from them.

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Notice those words I mentioned: different, unique, quality, care, special.  You will pay a bit more for those things, but don’t you want those extras when you make purchases?  I don’t know many people who don’t like to get a great deal when they have the option.  There are reality shows about buying things for free with coupons!  But at what cost?  If we want to keep the quaint, quality stores around, we have to be willing to spend some money there.

Being honest, I am always hunting for the best deal.  I love a good sale and even still use online coupons.  But learning about this has challenged my thinking a bit.  So, I took an afternoon and went to buy a book.  In a bookstore that wasn’t a big chain.  I had to take a bit more time to learn the layout because it was new (and not familiar like another uniformed layout bookstore in town).  They didn’t even have both books I needed.  They found one, ordered the second and happily helped me look for my daughter’s lost shoe.  Though that last bit isn’t in their job description, I appreciated that they were willing to help out a complete stranger and new customer.

If where I buy can have an impact on how I feel about where I live, maybe I should consider my purchases a bit more.  Our culture is saturated with the idea of being efficient and pinching pennies.  However, I don’t want those decisions to ultimately hurt where I have chosen to raise my family.  So, family members, consider yourselves warned: you’ll probably all be getting books for Christmas.

Action Steps

  1.  Find one item you can buy locally and stick to it.  (Need some ideas?  How about books, kids birthday party gifts, housewarming gifts, baby/wedding gifts, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day?  Maybe find one or two stores in your area and try to do all your holiday shopping there.  Bonus: Sometimes they gift wrap for free!)
  2. Visit two local businesses and ask if they have any events (wine and cheese night at the boutique that sells home decor or birthday parties at the local toy shop).  Not only will you meet other locals, you’ll get to know the staff who could help you pick up your next gift.  When they know you better, they’ll help you buy a better gift.  Maybe even something for yourself.
  3. When you visit your next local business, look around and notice the difference between it and its chain counterpart.  If you’re feeling bold, tell the staff what you like or appreciate about their store.  Consider what you would miss if it wasn’t there anymore because it didn’t make enough money to stay.  Would you miss it?  If so, then you should be a patron there!Name three independent stores or restaurants in which you have fond memories.  What is it about these places that you love?  If you worked in or owned a locally owned business, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!

 

Create Community: Walk More

Welcome back, friends, to our Create Community series.  The last two weeks (here and here), we discussed the challenge of creating community for yourself when you become an adult.  When we were kids, our parents chose our community for us: the neighborhood we lived in, the school we went to, sports teams, fine arts events, play groups.  Secondly, we talked about place attachment, the term author Melody Warnick used in this book to describe people’s sense of connection to their community.

In Warnick’s research, she discovered that there were ten common actions that we could actually do to help us create a deeper sense of place attachment where we live.  Each week we will dive deeper into each of them.

1.  Walk more
2.  Buy local
3.  Get to know my neighbors
4.  Do fun stuff
5.  Explore nature
6.  Volunteer
7.  Eat local
8.  Become more political
9.  Create something new
10.  Stay loyal through hard times
Let’s dive right in!

Walk More

Do you ever just take a walk around your neighborhood?  Do you ever bike to run errands?  If you have a dog you need to take out, I’m certain you have a better sense of your neighborhood than most of its residents.  Warnick learned that you have a much better sense of place when you actually put on your shoes and walk around where you live.  This might even mean walk to the nearest shop, gas station or market.

When exploring a new town, most people try to learn the area in their car.  This certainly is the most time-efficient way, yet research shows that our mental maps are significantly more accurate when we walk or bike.  Years ago when I lived in downtown Chicago, I was always amazed by the people who seemed to be born on the city streets because they knew them so well.  I’m not completely directionally hopeless, but it seemed to come so much easier to them.  Thinking about it now, they biked to work.  Walking (or bussing) the four blocks to my job made me an expert at the few blocks surrounding home and work, but downtown?  I was pretty lost.

Of course, the more you walk over periods of time, the better your mental framework of your own local map.  Not only do you know street names and chain restaurants, you have memories attached.  “This park is where my toddler took her first steps!  That field is where I took my dog to play catch the first time!  That office is where we signed the papers to own our home!”  I loved this quote by Warnick: “Each jolt of memory becomes a geolocation marker that we press into our mental map of where we live.  Little by little, we pin ourselves into place.”

Warnick interviewed a Raleigh, North Carolina resident who was shocked at how few people walked in his area so he started “Walk Raleigh”.  His semester abroad in Copenhagen inspired a new way of thinking and he set out to bring this new way of life to Raleigh.  He created signs sharing all sorts of landmarks and how long it would take to walk there.  When asked if walking matters, he responded, “Absolutely.  I think that it helps people discover the character of where they live and why they like it.  Otherwise it’s a faceless kind of experience.  You don’t come in contact with anybody.  Even having the comfort of being social and being around other people is so healthy.  It’s fun to walk down the street and say hi to people.”

Action Steps
1.
  Sit down with a piece of paper and draw from memory your neighborhood.  Be as detailed as possible.  If you’re struggling, go for a slow walk with eyes wide open and try again.
2. Consider trying to run one of your errands by walking or biking.  Even better, permanently make this change a part of your routine.
3.  Does your town have a local walking tour?  (Mine doesn’t, it is a bit too small.  The neighboring suburb does, however.)  Consider trying it out and if not, check out some of the landmarks within the park district and see if you could create your own.
4.  If you are moving or planning to move, consider the Walk Score for your town.  WalkScore.com uses Google Maps to give a score for its walkability.  If you are walking distance to a bank, coffee shop, grocery store, you earn points.  The higher the score, the more likely you will be able to bike/walk to live in your community.  (Note: Parts of New York City and San Francisco are as high as 99 out of 100, where I live, a 33.)

Wow, if you have stuck with me to the end you are either my mom (hi, Mom) or dedicated to loving where you live!  Be sure to take pictures of some of your favorite things about where you live (on a walk of course!) and share with #createmycommunity.  I can’t wait to see what you share!