Photo: Erin Wallace

Meet thy neighbour: the Abundant Communities Initiative

Highlands Abundant Communities Initiative
The Highlands: neighbours coming together with a shared vision of what they want for their community. as part of the Abundant Communities Initiative. Photo: Erin Wallace

Two neighbours, coming home from work, stop to chat before they head into their homes. A group of mystery lovers meets for a potluck and book club meeting. Several people who live in the same apartment building meet at one resident’s home to learn the art of traditional Indian cooking. These are things you don’t expect to see in city neighbourhoods today, as people become more and more isolated in this era of smartphones, earbuds and home theatres. But there is a growing initiative to reconnect and revitalize our neighbourhoods, and Howard Lawrence wants to talk about it at the upcoming Edmonton Resilience Festival, April 29  – May 1, 2016.

The Abundant Communities initiative aims to bring neighbours together, by focusing on their shared skills and interests. Based on The Abundant Community by John McKnight and Peter Block, the initiative mobilizes members of the community who are excited about neighbourhood engagement to find out what interests and activities could bring neighbours together. Howard Lawrence, a community-minded ordained minister who spearheaded the initiative in the Highlands neighbourhood in Edmonton, says he believes that just as families are moving away from TV dinners and back to meals together, neighbours should get to know and connect with each other for the benefit of the whole community. Partnered with the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute, the initiative focuses on the assets of an individual community, in order to best serve its needs.

At its core, the initiative encourages communication among neighbours. Each block has its Block Connector, who visits residents and initiates conversations. Three crucial questions are asked:

What is your vision for the neighbourhood?

What do you like to do?

What gifts or abilities do you have to share?

From these conversations, data is collected and like-minded groups are formed. In Highlands, there are now walking, cooking and soap-making groups. At least two block events (block parties) are planned every year. These small steps are leading toward building block and neighbourhood identity, and improving the safety of the community. And it all starts with conversations.

As of September 2015, 14 Edmonton neighbourhoods were involved in this initiative, including Bonnie Doon, Lendrum and Westmount. At least seven more neighbourhoods were getting started in the project, and 25 more had inquired about it. There are lots of resources available, and the initiative is enthusiastically supported by city council members. Howard Lawrence will be talking about the Abundant Communities Initiative during the Edmonton Resilience Festival and anyone with a passion for community, or just an interest in getting to know their neighbours, is welcome!