I grew up on a tight-knit block in Minneapolis. There were lots of kids my age and I have fond memories of playing capture the flag and biking around our street as a child.
One of my favorite memories is of our annual block parties. My mom would make her famous “Block Party Beans” in a gigantic pot, simmering for hours on the stove then ladled out onto plastic plates along with homemade burgers, fruit salad, brownies, and more. There were bubbles and mini-fireworks, beer for the adults and juice boxes for the kids. Everyone pulled their lawn chairs and grills out from their yards and put them right in the road. We all knew each other's names. We stayed out until the last rays of sun passed below the horizon and the mosquitos came out in full force.
That, to me, is what it means to be a good neighbor--sharing food with one another and spending quality time together. Those are some of the best moments in our lives.
This week, we are talking about Strong Citizens. It's nothing new for us; Strong Citizens is actually a conversation we’ve been having for many years. It’s a conversation that Gracen Johnson has almost every week. It is woven into our discussions about small-scale developers who work to make their neighborhoods better by creating more housing and commercial options at affordable prices. It exists in the stories of people who fight to slow the cars and make streets safer for bikes, pedestrians and wheelchair users. It is a key aspect of every Curbside Chat that Chuck Marohn gives and every member meet-up we host.
Meaningful change happens one person at a time, neighbor to neighbor. Being a Strong Citizen means:
- Doing everything you can, as an individual, to make yourself stronger, more resilient, and more adaptable; and
- Sharing this experience with your friends and neighbors when they naturally become interested in the things you're doing. This is how strong communities naturally form.
This week, you're going to hear from a family that gave up their car and gained a better sense of community in the process. You're going to hear from an Atlanta mother who is devoting her time to helping local immigrant-run restaurants improve their neighborhood. You're going to hear from a Strong Towns member who chose to help make his hometown better instead of moving away to a more enticing, expensive city. You're going to hear from a Strong Towns contributor about what it was like to grow up poor in Los Angeles and the way his mother figured out how to make ends meet.
It doesn't take a degree in engineering or a position in public office to make positive change in your community, and if you're reading this--if you're interested in the work of Strong Towns--I think you probably already knew that.
You're the type of people who host neighborhood parties, who bring over a plate of cookies when someone new moves in down the block, who lend a helping hand when someone's basement floods or when a neighbor gets sick. Even if you don't feel like a Strong Citizen yet, we're sharing lots of tips and ideas for how to take that leap throughout the week.
I can’t imagine a more fitting follow-up to our Strongest Town contest than a week that showcases the many people across the country who are doing the hard but rewarding work of making their towns stronger.
We hope this week inspires you to get out there and put the Strong Towns message into action.
Join the Discussion
We know that the individuals whose stories we're sharing this week are only a fraction of a nation of Strong Citizens. We invite you to participate in an ongoing discussion about what it means to be a Strong Citizen and how you work to make your town better in big and small ways, on our Slack discussion forum.
Visit this page to sign up for Slack and to learn more about this platform. Once you've logged in, please join the #StrongCitizens channel and participate. Wednesday at 12pm CT, Strong Towns staff will lead a live chat about Strong Citizens, but we encourage you to start talking now!
(Top photo courtesy of Boneyard Studios)