I recently had the opportunity to interview Christine Gibson, one of the co-founders of the SoCo Neighbors group about their fresh approach to enlivening neighborliness in the South of Conant Neighborhood.
The hope of this interview is to show residents what “relationship centered” neighborhood associations can unleash in every neighborhood in Long Beach. We hope that this approach of Neighborhood Association 2.0 would be copied everywhere around the world.
Scott Jones: What is the vision and purpose of SoCo neighbors?
Christine Gibson: Initially, we were driven to define the South of Conant neighborhood within the greater context of Long Beach. So we asked basic questions like:
Who were we?
What did South of Conant have that made us special?
What defined our neighborhood?
We spent time mulling this over, creating a neighborhood logo (beautifully conceived by Barbara Rogers Iverson) and our co-founder, Kasia McDermott, created a Facebook page. We tried to carve out South of Conant as a defined “place”. We shortened the name of the neighborhood to SoCo, with the intent to stir things up and create a hip, fresh sense of identity. Ultimately, over the next 4 years our vision and purpose morphed and became focused on connecting neighbors – since this was the defining feature SoCo residents talked about the most. The neighborliness they had known and wanted to preserve in the neighborhood. Last year, with the help of volunteers we call SoCo Connectors, we drafted the following statement: The purpose of SoCo Neighbors is to foster an inclusive community of connected residents, who share their time and talents to promote a friendly & flourishing neighborhood.
Scott: What are some distinctions between SoCo neighbors and other neighborhood associations you have experienced?
Christine: Probably the two most notable features would be 1.) We are not membership-driven and we don’t have an elected board. 2.) We felt our purpose was simple – to connect neighbors. Not to address neighborhood complaints or issues or to create neighborhood rules… but just to create opportunities for neighbors to connect. This realization has actually been quite freeing. The thought of creating a formal “Association” was daunting… like we were setting out to be the voice of the neighborhood. This was not at all what we wanted to do nor did we feel like we wanted that type of authority.
Scott: Why do you love seeing neighbors connect with one another?
Christine: As I said before, connecting with neighbors is where the magic happens, it’s where we can come alive and feel fully human, fully ourselves. When neighbors connect, they find out or are reminded of 2 very important things… (1) We are not alone; there is always something you can find in common, whether it’s a hobby, a skill, a shared history or passion. On our block, in our city, in this world… we are all connected. And (2) there is more to life than just ourselves; neighbors wake us up to the world around us, they broaden our horizons and make our lives more full. They urge us to resist selfishness and respond to those around us, giving us opportunities to respond with kindness and care. I’m reminded of a quote that says “you cannot love your brother across the world if you do not love your neighbor across the street”. Neighborhoods are these little microcosms where we learn how to get along with each other. I don’t want to imply that neighbors always agree or have everything in common, but by being open and truly getting to know your neighbors, you break down assumptions and pave the way for better communication and appreciation of each other.
This summer we are rolling out this concept of “Front Yard Fridays” in SoCo. We are encouraging neighbors to hangout in their front yards (an asset that we often under-utilized) on Friday Nights. Neighbors can play catch, garden, read a book, paint, draw, sweep, just… BE in your front yard and see what happens. We know when neighbors see other neighbors outside, it makes them feel more secure and connected. We also plan to have a pilot group of neighbors who will be encouraged to use Front Yard Fridays as a time to gather neighbors from their block… an excuse to hang out. These neighbors will be given a special yard sign that they will place in their front yard to let others know they are hosting the gathering. The hope is that the sign will be passed around the block and that neighbors will connect at least once a month while taking turns “hosting”. Front Yard Fridays is really just giving people an excuse to connect with others…. to not hide in their homes but be out. Be visible.
Scott: What would be your ultimate hopes and dreams for every neighbor in SoCo?
Christine: Well, this might seem a bit warm and fuzzy but, I think it would be… to know and be known by those around them. That is where the magic is. That is where we feel our “humanness”. When others take the time to get to know us, we feel we matter and feel cared for. And the reverse, when we get to know others, we feel we matter and have something to contribute.
Scott: Do you have any tips for starting a group for those around Long Beach that want to?
Christine: First, start with your own block. Take a chance and become a “block connector” and see what talents, passions & connections you find on your own block. Second, put the word out that you are looking to start a neighborhood group. With Facebook and apps like Nextdoor, this has gotten a lot easier! I like to ask people I meet, what do you love about your neighborhood. Their answers will lead you to what your neighborhood values and cherishes. From there, you will create your own road map that both celebrates your neighborhood and connects it. I wish you the very best!
Please contact us if you have any questions about “Neighborhood Associations 2.0″ email: firstname.lastname@example.org