I heard an interesting story this weekend on NPR’s The State We’re In. In “Street Warriors”, host Jonathan Groubert talks to evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson about The Binghamton Neighborhood Project in Binghamton, New York. Wilson mentions that residents of Binghamton, himself included, don’t really have a great sense of community and the city has a poor sense of “self esteem.” Based on the concept of urban evolution, The Binghamton Neighborhood Project recognized the need for a community to work together to be productive and grow.
The program works by taking advantage of both group cooperation and competition. One project was designed as a neighborhood competition called “Design Your Own Park” and encouraged community input for designing and constructing a park on unused public property. The winning design came from one of the participants. The input from residents gave them a sense of ownership and involvement. (Perhaps not very surprisingly, the more affluent neighborhoods were not very interested.)
The group concept was also applied to a group of at-risk high school students with good results.
The entire piece is about 17 minutes long and very much worth the listen.
Also, he talks about religion and ants.
Have you heard of community projects like this? Can these kinds of projects really save failing communities?
I really like the idea of involving kids in this kind of thing – the most likely / frequent end users in the case of a park. The interesting piece then is what happens over time…are the residents more invested in the project and more likely to maintain it’s cleanliness, etc.