There are a lot of principles to the practice of Asset-Based Community Development. Studies, books, and workshops are available to formally train in identifying and building on a community’s current resources. The starting points, however, are pretty straightforward and tied to the simple principle of getting to know one’s neighbors. To me, that’s the fun part!
Just like the ABCs are the building blocks for language that we must keep coming back to, here are three key practices to get started and consistently revisit in the practice of Asset-Based Community Development.
A- Appreciate Forerunners and History- I was recently at a seminar where the passionate trainer shared about a neighborhood association kicking off in a local neighborhood. It was exciting to hear about people connecting to one another, however, several of us in the room knew that a few years back there had been a thriving neighborhood association in that place. This work wasn’t new, it had been abandoned. I celebrate that new neighbors are stepping in to serve and care for one another, and hope that they would seek out people who have lived there for years to learn from.
These new neighborhood leaders have an opportunity to learn from elders in the community about what made the neighborhood thrive in the past. What happened that the association fell apart? What would they like to see in the future? Investigating and appreciating the work that has happened before, will validate the elders in the community and give a foundation and vision for where to go and mistakes to avoid.
B- Be Present With Your Neighbors- I have heard people blame the invention of the automatic garage door for the lack of neighborliness we often experience. People with automatic garages don’t have to interact with neighbors as they come and go throughout the day. Garages are one more way we can isolate ourselves.
Even in my apartment, garage-less community I was often in such a hurry I didn’t give myself margin to connect with neighbors as we saw each other. What would it look like for you to be intentional about connecting with people as you took out the trash, walked to your car, jogged around the neighborhood, or got your mail? What are some questions you could have ready to ask instead of just saying “hi”?
Here are a few for your neighborliness toolbox:
- “What’s been the highlight of your day?”
- “What’s on your mind today?”
- “Who have you connected with in the neighborhood this week?”
- “ What is one thing I could do to be a better neighbor?”
C- Connect Neighbors to One Another and Other Resources- Recently it came out in conversation that my neighbor and I were both shopping around for new health insurance. After that conversation she called me to ask for doctor recommendations. This was a simple exchange that encouraged us both.
As you get to know your neighbors, how can you connect them to one another? Asset-based community development is not about you solving everyone’s problems but highlighting the assets and resources that already exist in the community. How could you facilitate highlighting those resources in a way that decentralizes the knowledge from you and spreads it around the community?
In an earlier post, I told the story of Juan, a neighbor with years of experience in the 12 step movement. By connecting him to a mother whose son had a drug problem, Juan’s expertise spread around the community and others were connected to the valuable resource. Often, all you need to do to help is make a valuable connection between neighbors.
This week can you identify who has lived in your neighborhood for over ten years and spend a half hour listening to them. Ask them, What do you love about the community? What resources do you see here? What concerns do you have about the neighborhood? Who do you think I should listen to next?