In the spring of 1993 a number of residents in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood of Vancouver decided to create a community organization that included everyone. They wanted a democratic organization with authority vested in a large number of people rather than a small group of self-appointed individuals with a high tolerance for evening meetings. After some discussion they sketched out a model micro-democracy based on block-by-block representation.
This is how a block level micro-democracy works. Resident organizers find block reps for every block in the area. A block can either be a block of houses on opposite sides of the same street, an apartment block, co-op, or condominium complex. Block reps get to know everyone on their block, then introduce everyone to one another. When neighbours first meet, they are often surprised and delighted to discover how many interesting people live on their own block. Once residents know one another, they can elect a block rep. Block reps then elect neighbourhood reps, who can form an area coordinating committee.Neighbourhood reps can also elect area reps, who can form a city coordinating committee.
Area and city coordinating committees are ideal for addressing problems that extend beyond neighbourhood boundaries such as transportation. They are also useful for determining city spending priorities.Area and city coordinating committees require modest resources, particularly some paid staff time, to do their work. So far, few Canadian or US cities have been willing to provide any resources. But this may change as more cities begin to recognize their greatest asset is their citizens.
Block-by-block organizing can easily link many people over a large area; it can also help to form a strong link between citizens and government. In addition to making connections between people, block reps can promote mutual aid. At the block level, mutual aid can range from dealing with a noisy neighbour, to finding someone to look after your cat while you are on vacation. The side effect of these small exchanges is a sense of community, a commodity in short supply in the modern city.
Here are some tips when organizing block-by-block.
make the task manageable by focusing on small neighbourhoods. What some cities call neighbourhoods are actually large areas that each contain many small neighbourhoods. Cities the size of Seattle or Vancouver contain well over a hundred real neighbourhoods. The boundaries of real neighbourhoods are defined by residents rather than government.
Secondly, encourage each block to act independently. Only when a problem is too large or difficult for a single block should people from other blocks become involved.
Thirdly, organize in twos, so each block has two block reps, and each neighbourhood has two neighbourhood reps. This provides friendly support, improves information exchange, and reduces workloads.
Finally, consider integrating with Block Watch
. While the former works across a street, and the latter across the lane, they can support one another.
For more info contact: Charles Dobson
, Vancouver Citizen's Committee
Community Building Activities / Part 2-14
The Citizen's Handbook / Charles Dobson / www.vcn.bc.ca/citizens-handbook