4 Ways to get Outside and Make your Neighborhood Better this Spring

Springtime presents a great opportunity to get outside and take some small steps to make your community more friendly, more beautiful, and, most importantly, more financially strong. Pick one of the four ideas below (or share your own ideas in the comments), then get outside and start improving your neighborhood.

A snapshot of Rachel's balcony garden.

A snapshot of Rachel's balcony garden.

1. Plant a garden.

A garden is a tangible way to show your neighborhood you care and to beautify your street. It also offers great benefits to you in the form of fresh, homegrown food (if it's a vegetable, herb or fruit garden) and a pretty view every time you look out your window. If you live in a warm climate, gardening season has likely already begun. Do a little research on what you'd like to plant, then head to your local nursery or hardware store to get the basic supplies, plus advice from experts.

If you're in a cooler climate (like mine), the ground is not quite ready to receive your plants, but you can start with the research on what you'll be growing and dust off or purchase supplies like shovels, pots and watering cans. You can also take a look at these five stories we just published to get you pumped about spring gardening.

Don't have a yard? That shouldn't stop you from creating a garden. I wrote about my tiny balcony garden last summer and what I learned through the process. If I—someone with no gardening background or knowledge—can do it, so can you.

Not into gardening? If you take a little time to turn your porch/yard/balcony into an inviting place by tidying it up and adding seating, you can still create an attractive, inviting space in your neighborhood. Check out Gracen Johnson's lovely thrifted porch in this article from last year.

Adam Greenfield's birthday party and neighborhood social a few years ago (Source: Adam Greenfield)

Adam Greenfield's birthday party and neighborhood social a few years ago (Source: Adam Greenfield)

2. Plan a block party.

Where I live, block parties are a strictly summertime activity and, while we may be the street festival capital of the Midwest, we don't start breaking out the coolers and tents until well into May. That said, if you live in the north, now is the ideal time to start planning for the summer festivities like a neighborhood block party. If you need a permit, submit that application. If you need to coordinate with neighbors on who's bringing what, get the conversation started. For those who live in a warmer place, April or May can be good months to host an outdoor event when the temperature hasn't quite heated past the point of pleasantness.

Strong Towns member Adam Greenfield wrote an excellent piece around this time last year, offering a step-by-step guide for how to meet your neighbors by throwing a neighborhood event. Block parties and other outdoor events can do so much to help your town grow stronger: They foster connections among neighbors. They put people out in the street, utilizing public space to its fullest. They're a chance for small businesses like local artists and small cafes to test out and sell products... The list goes on. So gather some neighbors and start planning your outdoor event.

Photo of a bike boulevard and chicane in Berkeley, CA. (Photo by  Payton Chung )

Photo of a bike boulevard and chicane in Berkeley, CA. (Photo by Payton Chung)

3. Make your town more bike-friendly.

Safe, accessible bike routes and opportunities to bike can improve the financial health of your town by decreasing reliance on expensive automobile infrastructure, as well as saving on personal transportation costs for individuals. Strong Towns contributor and member Sara Joy Proppe put together a fantastic list of recommendations for making your church bike friendly last year, but most of them apply to any neighborhood. She suggests things like installing bike parking or a simple bike repair station. These could easily be accomplished through a collaborative neighborhood effort or by working with a local business association on a nearby commercial street. 

Strong Towns member Spencer Gardener also shared some ideas for how to improve your town's bike network on a budget during Bike Week last October. He discusses protected bike lanes, bike boulevards, bike share programs and more. These sorts of efforts take time, resources and commitment, but they're happening in towns across the country through the efforts of people like you.

4. Do a traffic calming demonstration.

If the idea of installing an entire protected bike lane sounds daunting, how about trying out a temporary traffic calming demonstration? This is a low-cost, low-risk way to show your town what a safer street could look like using cones, planters or hay bales to temporarily narrow a street or create a bike lane. Besides supplies and volunteers, usually all that's needed to make this happen is a permit from your municipality and some event insurance.

Marielle Brown is a Strong Towns member and our resident traffic calming expert. She's recently shared a list of outstanding resources to help you host a pop-up traffic calming demonstration in your town. She also wrote a fun piece about using human beings (and costumes!) for traffic calming efforts. And you can watch the video on the left to see her work on traffic calming in St. Louis, MO up close.

What are you doing this spring to improve your neighborhood?

(Top photo by Thomas Hafeneth)

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