Men, Better Neighbours Than Friends?

One Man's Story about Fostering Community Connection

Howard Lawrence, the go-to-and-get-it-done guy when it comes to fixing neighbourhoods, reflects on his own way of connecting. When he is at home feeling isolated, he heads outside to see who is working on projects — fixing or building — and pitches in.

The slow pace and the broad help-based nature of the neighbouring relationship seems to fit men better than the more intense emotionally focused nature of the current version of friendship. “When it comes to relational nutrients, friends and family are important but neighbours, for men, provide an often overlooked and important ingredient.”

Howard Lawrence is the thought leader and animator behind Abundant Community Edmonton where he is putting into action the ideas expressed in The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block. With their enthusiastic support he has developed a prototype project in his own neighbourhood. Highlands is an infrastructure giving neighbours permission to be connected with each other. The program involves paid and volunteer Neighbourhood Connectors using questionnaires that have the dual purpose of gathering data for a neighbourhood database while also giving people permission to have conversations with each other. This one-on-one connecting by Block Connectors is a prequel to neighbourhood social events such as block parties also hosted by the Block Connector.

Howard has seen dramatic things happen when community members (especially the unusual suspects) are invited to share their best hopes and dreams for the neighbourhood. The morning after he connected with Jo – a neighbourhood recluse with an alcohol dependency – Howard received a call from a pay phone. Jo wanted to meet and share his eight pages of handwritten ideas about how to make the community better. They ended up agreeing that Jo would help host the block party!

Howard states “There is a growing desire for the experience of community in neighbourhoods so this simple approach is attractive. People want permission to connect and a plan to follow that will move them toward making the vision of a unified community a reality. Many are looking toward the built form, hoping for bumping places in their hoods like coffee shops and pubs that will create connection with their neighbours.

“Our approach is attractive because we have a simple framework for pursuing neighbourly relationships without outside business or government. All you need is the support and encouragement of neighbourhood leadership.”

This model has been embraced by the City of Edmonton and they are supporting the further replication of it throughout Edmonton in collaboration with Community Leagues.

There are opportunities coming up in June to learn more about this model in Edmonton: an afternoon with Howard Lawrence and John McKnight on June 6, (contact [email protected]) and The Deepening Community Conference on June 7-9 hosted by the community of Tamarack.

This article was originally posted on the website of New Scoop, a Calgary-based news co-operative publishing Generative Journalism. Image and text appear here with permission.




About the Lead Author

Sarah Arthurs
Sarah Arthurs
Sarah Arthurs worked as a therapist, college instructor, parent educator, community developer, generative journalist, and pastor, and she is taking all she knows about community and entrepreneurship to create new co-housing neighborhoods. She and her family have lived at Prairie Sky Co-housing Co-operative in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, since 2008. In explaining the concept behind co-housing communities, she points to a description from the Prairie Sky website: "Some people call them a return to the best of small-town communities. Others say they are like a traditional village or the close-knit neighbourhood where they grew up, while futurists call them an altogether new response to social, economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Each holds a piece of the truth. Co-housing is a concept that came to North America in 1988 [and] describes neighbourhoods that combine the autonomy of private dwellings with the advantages of shared resources and community living.” To learn more about Sarah's work with co-housing check out her website Cohousing Connections. Sarah is bringing together developers and homeowners who are excited about the co-housing lifestyle to create new co-housing neighborhoods. She is working on projects across Alberta and is available to work on projects in Canada. In observing an evolving co-housing niche augmenting the use of church properties or repurposing those properties when they need to be sold, she says, “There is a wonderful alignment of values between cohousing and faith traditions which have in common the commitment to ‘Love your neighbor.’” She has a B.A. in Theology, a Masters in Educational Psychology and is a Registered Psychologist. She has worked as a therapist, college instructor, parent educator, community developer and pastor. During 2012, the UN declared International Year of Co-operatives, Sarah was the Alberta Coordinator for the International Year of Co-operatives with the Alberta Community and Cooperative Association.

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