As the training and consulting arm of Focused Community Strategies, we believe that social cohesion is a powerful indicator of neighborhood flourishing. Social cohesion is connected to the concept of working, living, and playing in the same space. Neighborhoods with high social cohesion are filled with people who are invested in the place they live. It’s centered on a love of space – both in the past, present, and future – and it’s a high indicator of whether or not a community will experience flourishing. We’ve broken down this concept into several parts, and we’ll discuss two of them today.
Civic infrastructure consists of those organizations that exist to support the community and help the community achieve its goals. Neighborhood Planning Unit systems, neighborhood associations, council wards and districts, non profits, religious organizations, after school programs – these all provide the connective tissue in a neighborhood to help hold things together. They support the neighborhood, and when something’s wrong, it’s felt throughout the entire network.
When civic infrastructure is at its best and functioning in a healthy way, it can help provide solutions for neighborhoods who have been passed over or marginalized. Collaboration is key. This applies to community members who are invested in the community as well – even if they’re part of an informal group.
How can you build up your civic infrastructure? Come in as a student first. Listen and take notice. What is the current informal and formal infrastructure? How can you help the community grow like it wants to? Just because you build a community center doesn’t mean that people will show up. Trust is the prerequisite.
Following the theme, trust is paramount here. Once you know the neighbors around you, leadership can be a bit easier. People of color in many neighborhoods have experienced deep trauma and intense biases – and this can present barriers for outsiders who are moving into a community. There is doubt embedded into the experience – people wonder if you’ll be investing, flipping your house, or renting out your property rather than putting down roots into the community.
Relationships take time to develop, but they’re a precursor to any leadership role. If you show over time that you’re a trustworthy neighbor and member of the community, those relationships will be allowed to blossom. Understanding one another is the foundation, and once there’s a mutual connection, there is a natural alignment.
The way in which a leader conducts themselves in public can encourage or discourage trust. Particularly in communities that have experienced trauma, it’s critical to strike a tone that’s inclusive and welcoming. Transparency and time equals trust.
When trust is broken, it’s difficult to repair, but it’s not impossible. How do you repair trust? Acknowledge where you went wrong. Don’t become so focused on the goal that you lose sight of the journey and how other people are viewing your leadership.
How Do We Motivate People to Invest in These Infrastructures?
It takes many people to implement a neighborhood’s plan, and encouraging involvement in civic infrastructure can pay big dividends for all. Some say that participation in civic organizations is the rent we pay for existing.
In order to help increase engagement like this, make things equitable and mutually beneficial. Offer compensation for testimonials, focus groups, or neighbor stories. This encourages a sense of reciprocity and makes things work for everyone. Don’t just pay the marketer – pay the storyteller, too.
People who live in a neighborhood are the experts of their place. Once we tap into their knowledge, we can find collaboration. Find something that aligns with the desires of the neighborhood. It’s not a mystery how to get involved – first show up, then listen, then engage.