E.F. Schumacher (author of Small is Beautiful) offered timeless advice about how to boost our communities, “Perhaps we cannot raise the wind. But each of us can put up the sail, so that when the wind comes we can catch it.”
Here’s a handy list of ways you can capture the breeze in the place you call home. And we’re sure you’ll discover more ideas of your own.
1) Challenge the prevailing myth that all problems have private, individualized solutions.
2) Notice how many of life’s pleasures exist outside the marketplace—gardening, fishing, conversing, playing music, playing ball, enjoying nature, and more.
3) Take time to enjoy what your corner of the world offers (As the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once declared, “We are bigger than our schedules.”)
4) Have some fun. The best reason for making great places is that it will enliven all of our lives.
5) Offer a smile or greeting to people you pass. Community begins with connecting—even in brief, spontaneous ways.
6) Walk, bike, or take transit whenever you can. It’s good for the environment, but also for you. You make very few friends behind the wheel of your car.
7) Treat common spaces as if you own them (which, actually, you do). Pick up litter. Keep an eye on the place. Tidy things up. Report problems or repair things yourself. Initiate improvements.
8) Pull together a potluck. Throw a block party. Form a community choir, slow food club, Friday night poker game, seasonal festival, or any other excuse for socializing.
9) Get out of the house and spend some time on the stoop, the front yard, the street—anywhere you can be a part of the river of life that flows past.
10) Create or designate a “town square” for your neighborhood where folks naturally want to gather—a park, playground, vacant lot, community center, coffee shop, or even a street corner.
11) Lobby for more public benches, water fountains, plazas, parks, sidewalks, bike trails, playgrounds, and other crucial commons infrastructure.
12) Take matters into your own hands and add a bench to your front yard or transform a vacant lot into a playground.
13) Conduct an inventory of local commons. Publicize your findings, and offer suggestions for celebrating and improving these community assets.
14) Organize your neighbors to prevent crime and to defuse the fear of crime, which often dampens a community’s spirits even more than crime itself.
15) Remember streets belong to everyone, not just automobiles. Drive cautiously and push for traffic calming and other improvements that remind motorists they are not kings of the road.
17) Form a neighborhood exchange to share everything from lawn mowers to childcare to vehicles.
18) Barter. Trade your skill in baking pies with someone who will fix your computer.
19) Join campaigns opposing cutbacks in public assets like transit, schools, libraries, parks, social services, police and fire protection, arts programs, and more.
20) Write letters to the editor about the importance of community commons, post on local websites, call into talk radio, tell your friends.
21) Learn from everywhere. What can Copenhagen teach us about bicycles? India about wellness? Africa about community solidarity? Indigenous nations about the commons itself? What bright ideas could be borrowed from a nearby neighborhood or town?
22) Become a guerrilla gardener, planting flowers and vegetables on neglected land in your neighborhood.
23) Organize a community garden or local farmer’s market.
24) Roll up your sleeves to restore a creek, wetland, woods, or grasslands.
25) Form a study group to explore what can be done to improve your community.
26) Think yourself as a local patriot and share your enthusiasm.
How to Design Our World for Happiness is a free e-book that is chock full of inspirational stories, tips, and case studies that encourage Placemakers to think Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper, and get started on transforming their communities today. Click here to download the PDF.