Festival of Neighbourhoods

Submitted by Derek Alton on November 26, 2012 - 12:06pm
Strengthing our local communities

Neighbourhoods carry so much potential for positive impacts on communities.  They are where we all live and many carry great diversity among ages, nationalities and languages.  In terms of geography, these are the people that live closest to us.  By building neighbourhood connection and pride it creates a safer and more resilient community and allows us to unlock the tremendous potential that lies within our neighbourhoods.

Despite this recognition that neighbourhoods are hugely important and have a large potential to create benefits for their communities, cities everywhere struggle with how to foster them and give them the tools to grow in our increasingly commuter based and individualistic society.

One city that I think is heading in the right direction is Kitchener.  Recently I was fortunate enough to attend their local Festival of Neighbourhoods which serves to bring all the neighbourhood groups together and to honour and celebrate their work and success over the year.  I was amazed to see the energy from all these different people of all ages and to hear the incredible stories of what they have done over the year.  This included everything from community BBQ’s and garage sales to organizing a Jane’s walk that highlighted the history and the value of a local cemetery and park.

This initiative started 19 years ago through a partnership between the City of Kitchener, The Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo (not for profit) and John McDonald Architect (private business).  It is designed to be a supportive incentive program.  The initiative provides resources for communities to access that help with events and initiatives and they help advertise these events.  They also hand out a grand prize of $10,000 at the festival wrap up I went to, that helps one of the neighbourhood groups each year improve their community.

At the festival I had the opportunity to talk both with one of the City Staffers and also with John McDonald from John McDonald Architect; they both emphasized the key was this tri level partnership between a private business, a not for profit and the city.  I have heard of public private partnerships before but I must admit this tri partnership was a new and exciting concept for me.  It also showed local community buy in beyond simply the city.

Many cities I have been to are trying to support their neighbourhood groups.  I think they would benefit from a program like this.  I hope one day that this model is replicated in communities across Canada.  I know the partners of this initiative believe the same and are eager to go to other communities to share what they are doing.

If you are interested in learning more check out their website:

http://www.kitchener.ca/en/livinginkitchener/FestivalOfNeighbourhoods.asp

Also check out this great blog about the Festival of Neighbourhoods by cofounder John McDonald:

http://johnmacdonaldarchitect.wordpress.com/