Growing a movement of citizens


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/12/2021 (540 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When I shared my article about my inspiration, Jane Jacobs, on social media I received a bit of pushback about my thoughts. I always love these criticisms as they can either strengthen my convictions or can help me grow and change. This one did a bit of both.

The criticism I received was regarding my opinion that ordinary citizens are the best people to tackle complex issues; people argued that at some point professionals are needed to do a proper job.

I agree. Professionals do have a place in the creation of community but many of the complex issues that our mature neighbourhoods are seeing can’t be solved by planners and engineers. It takes a grounded effort. Neighbourhoods function more like ecosystems where everything is connected intricately and in ways that can’t be captured by zoning codes, bylaw changes, or street design.

Great neighbourhoods are those in which citizens feel they are active participants; where they can make a difference. As much as planners would like it to be tures, they are not created by the best zoning codes.

Many of the best things we can do to help make our neighbourhood great start small, and it’s the interested citizens, as Jane calls them, who are in the best position to see and seize these opportunities. Projects of those interested citizens are those which use the community’s wisdom, an approach that is based on the simple ideas of the people who live there.

The best way to put it is this — citizens are not customers.

When you view citizens as customers you do them a disservice. It makes us view the bureaucracy of the civic government as the provider of a service and the citizens as the recipients or consumers of that service.

Truly great places aren’t created simply by passive consumers. Great places are built by people invested in their communities.

Sometimes this means literal investment, such as buying property, owning a business, or fixing up your house. But these investments can also be organizing a community clean-up, clearing the river for a skating trail, having a concert in the park, or writing for the community newspaper.

All these things start and end with you.

This can seem quite daunting; where do you start?

A great first thing to do is to really think about what you care about, and what your community really needs. Then, connect with neighbours — contacting your local residents association is a great way to do this — to find like-minded people.

Finally, realize that other people in the community care, too, and that you aren’t alone. Create a coalition for change because sometimes the group effort is greater than the sum of its parts.


Steve Snyder is a community correspondent for the Seven Oaks and Luxton neighbourhoods and chair of the Seven Oaks Residents’ Association

Steve Snyder

Steve Snyder
Luxton / Seven Oaks community correspondent

Steve Snyder is a community correspondent for the Seven Oaks and Luxton neighbourhoods and chair of the Seven Oaks Residents’ Association

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