Community Image Making
Distinct architectural and decorative characteristics help to define neighbourhoods. Large brick buildings with tall widows and large cornices often define historic town centres. Bedragoned lamp posts, open air markets, ornate buildings and distinctive signage will define a Chinatown. Where some defining characteristics are left over from the past or cultural preferences , others have disappeared or remain invisible. For this reason, many communities decide to describe their identity by adding banners, signs, flags, clocks, and gates. These elements should have a real connection to the place. They should not be generic junk or themed paste-on decoration. Addressing the need for community expression can take many different forms:
Community signs define neighbourhood boundaries
Residents in Seattle name their neighbourhoods, and then help design colorful street signs to mark the boundaries.
Community signs can slow cars, divert drug dealers
Residents of the block-long Rose Street in Vancouver have hand-painted cat signs that identify the street and ask motorists to slow down. Signs referring to kids playing also help to warn off street drug dealers who suspect the neighbourhood is full of hostile mothers.
Street becomes a community blackboard
In another Vancouver project, residents seeking a linear park on Jackson Street, painted a mural showing their ideas on the street surface. The mural changed the street from a conduit for cars into a forum for public discussion.
Painting street banners attracts all ages & cultures
Painting street banners attracts lots of local residents. But the final result is also attractive. When people see their own work on the street they begin to think of the street as theirs. And they begin to see other public issues as their business rather than the business of government.
A Community Fence built by many people
This fence project engaged two hundred children, adults and groups in creating four hundred highly individual pickets to enclose a community garden. Following a practice common to many community art projects, two local artists were hired to train local residents who then drew and carved their personal statements on fence. People without any wood-working experienceseniors, parents and children, people with disabilities, and members of many different ethnic groupsbecame part-time sculptors.
Crime and urban decay can begin to build in neighbourhoods that signal that crime and urban decay has already begun and no one really cares.
A downward spiral begins as criminals and drug dealers move in, families and businesses move out. The opposite happens with signals of health. Well-kept yards , well-maintained buildings and streets free of litter attract families and businesses. And the neighbourhood gets a reputation for being a good place to live. Urban signaling is an interesting phenomenon because it suggests that appearances trigger a process that converts inferences into reality.
The appearance of only a few derelict buildings may do nothing more than hint at the onset of decline, but this hint can alter peoples behaviour turning an isolated suggestion into a widespread fact. The consequence of small matters of appearance is so pronounced that community groups would be wise to address the broken window syndrome by quickly eliminating the signals of neglect.
Community groups can erase signals of decline as soon as they appear by forming partnerships with businesses, schools and local government. They can fix broken windows, paint out graffiti, remove junk, and mow overgrown yards. In the process, they will build community networks that make everything easier as more people get involved.
Community Building Activities/ Part 2-10
The Citizen's Handbook / Charles Dobson / www.vcn.bc.ca/citizens-handbook