Making strangers into neighbours

Remember when your mom or your grandma could walk down the block and borrow a cup of sugar from any of their neighbours?

Today, sadly, many people don’t even know their neighbours.

And that’s the reason the city’s Community Services Department is enabling a grassroots movement called the Abundant Community Initiative to work its wonders, turning urbanites into members of warm, welcoming communities, right down to the block level.

“The program makes neighbours out of strangers,” says Anne Harvey, Community Services’ coordinator on the initiative, “and it’s growing like wildfire because it’s a  simple concept, and so amazingly rewarding for the people whose lives it enriches.”

Anne Harvey coordinates the Abundant Community Initiative, helping communities find Neighbourhood Connectors and participating in training both them and Block Connectors.

Anne Harvey coordinates the Abundant Community Initiative, helping communities find Neighbourhood Connectors and participating in training both them and Block Connectors.

The concept originated with Howard Lawrence, a Highlands resident with a community development background who had read a book that put forward the main concepts of re-growing neighbourliness in urban communities whose residents were become increasingly distant from one another.

In 2013, Howard went door-to-door on his own block, introduced himself to all his neighbours, and simply talked with them. He asked them about their vision for their neighbourhood, about their hobbies, about the way they like to spend their time, and about their skills, gifts and abilities like carpentry or gardening. He logged all of that information in a database.

Next, he used his wider Highlands contacts and found people on other blocks who were willing to do the same thing. He called those people Block Connectors.

Howard became the Neighbourhood Connector, who ties everything together, training Block Connectors and helping them use the shared database of their neighbours’ human resources to ‘put people together’ with others with whom they have something in common.

“All kinds of people discovered their neighbours were also interested in activities like gardening, walking dogs, learning yoga,” says Anne.

“Within a few weeks in Highlands, there was a new-mom’s group meeting in members’ homes so their kids could play together. They share tips and tactics about parenthood, and they often babysit for each other,” says Anne.

The Highlands pilot program was such a success that Community Services assigned Anne to help coordinate the project, and found budget to enable Howard to be a full-time facilitator with other willing neighbourhoods throughout the city.

Anne and Howard facilitate the beginnings of the program in a neighbourhood, train the Neighbourhood Connector, then back away and let the neighbourhood take it from there.

“It picks up momentum and grows organically,” says Anne. “Now it’s actively being implemented in at least 12 other neighbourhoods across the city which represent widely different demographic, income and educational backgrounds.”

Anne tells the story about a Block Connector in one neighbourhoood who introduced himself to a quiet man who lived down the block and had no interaction with any of his neighbours.

“Five days later, he called the Block Connector to say he was having a heart attack and needed help. He said he wouldn’t have known anyone else he could call if he had not met his neighbour,” says Anne.

“In another neighbourhoood, a couple who recently moved here from the UK were just blown away by the welcome they got. He’s now playing hockey with other men in the neighbourhood, and she’s in the new mom’s group.”

Anne and Howard expect to see the program quickly spread through Edmonton’s 200+neighbourhoods. They see huge potential for it to catalyze a major cultural shift in the city, breaking down the barriers that keep us from knowing one another on a more intimate, trusting basis.

Edmonton is the only city in which the Abundant Community initiative has been implemented. Several other cities in Canada and the US have contacted Howard about starting similar programs.

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18 Comments
  1. Karen
    3 years ago

    Can we have contact information so that others can find out how participate in the program? Who do we contact? How can we get involved in our own communities?

  2. Teresa Adam
    3 years ago

    i would like more information about this program. I live in Dovercourt which is an older community with any original and older owners; and on the other hand many young families. Interested in how we could have more interaction. Have lived in this community all of my life!

  3. Shawn adams
    3 years ago

    I live in Belleview, and this sounds like a great program

  4. Rebecca Sampson
    3 years ago

    I used to live in Edmonton and am familiar with the Highlands area; my question is, can anyone, that is planning to move back in the future join this, and get help finding an affordable, pet-friendly, apartment with balcony and undercover parking?! My plans are pretty indefinite right now but I am seriously thinking of moving back within 2 years, or less. I am a young-at-heart senior (single) and am going to be looking for a place as soon as I decide to move back. Any information you may want to submit to me would be appreciated! Thank you!

  5. Pam Felt
    3 years ago

    This is wonderful! I’m currently a stay at home mom with time to connect my block. How can I get involved?

  6. Tatiana
    3 years ago

    Many years ago we lived in a small community. On a playground moms would talk to each other. Kids would play together. If one kid start crying a nearest mom would pick him up, wipe the tears, kiss on a cheek and let him loose. That was normal.
    Now I live in Edmonton’s community with word “properties” in the name. No talking. I live there for a while and still have no idea who lives across the street. Only joggers say “hello”. That is normal now. It is depressing….

  7. Preston
    3 years ago

    Fantastic! Great article!

  8. […] Please click HERE or on Image ABOVE to link to the transforming Edmonton article […]

  9. […] For a link to a community initiative in Edmonton, AB that is seeking to combat this isolation PLEASE CLICK HERE. […]

  10. Renee
    3 years ago

    Are there any connectors in any of the Millwoods communities? I live in Meyokumin. We just moved here a year ago.

  11. Will Vandervelde
    3 years ago

    I have lived in Highlands for the last 1.5 years and I have to say, LOVE this program. It has made Highlands such a friendly neighborhood to live in. The sense of community is great!

  12. Margo
    3 years ago

    I live in Burlington and this community building is something that is near and dear to m heart……. the idea that our children can play in front yards and know their neighbours is fantastic, that neighbours stop and talk getting to known one another and looki out for each other. Community building creates safety, happiness and makes neighbourhoods great places to live. it is all about the spirit of community and building upon it. I applaud your programme !!

  13. Mary Anne
    3 years ago

    I used to live in Edmonton and wish I had started a “things I love and am proud of in Edmonton!” file. It would be thick and huge. I am now living in Calgary. I would love to give this a try. It is the perfect time of year. I too would like the contact information. I live in a neighbourhood with no fences and friendly people. I think we could improve our connections in helpful and meaningful ways. Thank you!! Mary Anne

  14. […] was quite interested to read about the Abundant Community Initiative, which aims to turn strangers into […]

  15. Tere Thaler
    3 years ago

    Hi Anne,

    What a wonderful initiative! Do you a current of the list of communities engaging in this initiative?

    Tere

  16. Donna
    3 years ago

    Just wanting to echo the positive impact of this initiative that Anne has presented here. We are living in Laurier Heights – a community working hard to live abundantly…together, and what a simple yet transformational approach to living well! It has had such a profound effect on us we can’t imagine living anywhere else now.

  17. […] Anne Harvey coordinates Abundant Community Edmonton (ACE), a grassroots neighbourhood engagement and organizing framework that encourages and enables neighbourliness and local connections. The City of Edmonton’s role in this citizen-initiated work, is one of support and collaboration. Anne plays a variety of roles within her work with the city’s Citizen Services department including: facilitator; event coordinator; connector; resource developer; and innovator. She collaborates with neighbourhood groups to develop organic processes and comprehensive resources that further enable and enhance their community building efforts. […]

  18. Anne Harvey
    2 years ago

    Hi all! Great to see all these comments and stories! Please feel free to email me at anne.harvey@edmonton.ca and I’d be happy to answer your questions and provide more information, including a list of involved neighbourhoods. If there are Connectors in your neighbourhood, I’d be happy to introduce you to them! Thanks :)

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