Everything’s smaller in Texas: How to live well in the concrete jungle

Written by Grace Szucs- Communication & PR

It’s been nearly two weeks since I sat in the new Halifax Central Library listening to Jason Robert talk about the Better Block Project. Like many East coasters, I have friends who live and work in Texas (where Roberts is from), and I’m familiar with stories of concrete superhighways, gated communities, and urban sprawl.

Texan cities like Houston and Dallas sound like a lost cause to someone who takes a 15 minute stroll to work, passing by parks, merrily bubbling fountains, and meandering along a large lake.

Better Blocks is an organization that takes underused areas of the city and, through volunteer intervention, turns them into places people want to occupy. They take over a single block and set up temporary parks, pop-up shops and cafes, seating areas, and even pools to bring people into the space to mingle.  Roberts is inspired by European plazas and streets where the young and old linger and spend time together and businesses bustle, and he isn’t deterred by concrete flyovers or abandoned lots or even outdated city bylaws that seem to stand impede his vision.

Given the enormous success Roberts has enjoyed with Better Blocks, I was surprised to find out that his end goal is not the continued success of his projects. Rather, the main focus of Better Blocks is to raise social capital. That is, to engage the community and have fun. It’s the only assumption he makes before embarking on a project. The ripple effects of starting a conversation in a community and bringing attention to the sense of belonging in a particular space are often unpredictable, he says.

Roberts is full of wisdom and joyful determination. Listening to him talk was like being rained with golden nuggets of insight, so that’s how I’m going to present what I learned from Jason Roberts.

First of all, start small: Roberts seeks to transform a single block in a neglected area of a city.

Permanency: Forget it. Don’t fear it, and don’t strive for it. Creating something temporary takes the pressure off and allows creativity to flow more easily. The more experimental you can be the more likely it is that innovation will strike. Impermanence also engenders less backlash from city officials.

Red tape: One of the huge takeaways I got from Roberts was how these temporary, community-built interventions could serve as research and development for the city. By essentially creating a case study for something the community wants, you do some of the key work and data-gathering that costs the city thousands of dollars and takes sometimes years to organize through traditional means.

Identity: When Roberts approaches an area for improvement, he thinks about the “legacy” of that place. What is unique about the area and how can he highlight it?

Identity is in the details, he says, and we should celebrate what’s already present in a community. What makes the place great? Target those attributes and use them make that spot irresistible, to make it somewhere people want to be.

Rapidity: Roberts talks about getting things done in “rapid order”. Act now. Make your project happen this weekend. Why not? Doing so creates momentum and keeps self-doubt from creeping in.

Resources: Realign the resources you already have in new order so they can work in a new way, says Roberts. Engage the community around you. When it comes to resources, Roberts always tries to borrow first, build second, and finally, if needed, buy. Borrowing is integral to his main focus of raising social capital. It gets neighbours to meet, talk to one another, and it builds trust among the community. When something needs to be built for a project, Roberts harnesses the opportunity for learning and skill-sharing. If it comes down to making a purchase, he uses it as another opportunity to engage people through fundraising education and passing the hat.

One of Roberts’ many philosophies goes like this: An environment based on fear is cold whereas an environment based on love breeds positivity.

Feeling inspired yet?

100in1Day is like a tiny Better Blocks. Individuals create small, positive changes in their community through one-day interventions, and the 100in1Day team is here to help facilitate your ideas. We will be holding workshops throughout the city over the next 3 months. On June 6th everyone’s intervention will launch for the day and transform Halifax as we know it! 100in1Day.ca

Jason Roberts (@mannytmoto) was brought to Halifax by two other lovely organizations: Halifax Cycling Coalition and the Planning and Design Centre.

100in1Day

What if hundreds of people united, each taking one small action to improve their city, all on the same day? This is the goal of 100In1Day, a festival of civic engagement where no idea is too small to help make your community a better place to live. These local actions, known as urban interventions, foster a stronger sense of inspiration, community and belonging. An urban intervention is an action or initiative led by an individual, group of like-minded citizens, or an organization. These projects are a simple, often low-cost way for people to showcase their ideas for positive change while striving to improve the quality of life in their communities. Join us on June 6 and help spread the word! Halifax.100in1Day.ca

Come Volunteer With Us!

Written by Grace Szucs- 100in1Day Communications Team

I can’t believe we’re already gearing up for 100in1Day 2015 here in Halifax. It’s pretty darn exciting. We learned a lot last year and, along with Vancouver and Toronto, we’re  striving to make this event even bigger and better!

100in1Day is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who wants to learn new skills, hone the ones they already have, or contribute their expertise to the cause (luckily we had a healthy does of those folks!). Last year I volunteered on the social media team and wrote a couple of blog posts for the 100in1Day website. I learned all about how to spread our message, engage the community and create a following using Facebook and twitter. It didn’t matter that I had only used these platforms for my own entertainment: the 100in1Day team provided training, I did some research on my own, and I was encouraged to just get in there and try it out.

We’ve already had one volunteer brainstorming session this year, and it reminded me of why I like this event so much: it’s an opportunity to hang out with new people who are brimming with creative ideas and who just want to create a fun and accessible event that allows people to contribute to their city. These folks make me want to step up my game and step out of my comfort zone. Low stress, high inspiration!

Photo by Kate Mosher

But enough about me, 100in1Day is your event and we need you. Yes, you reader. We’re pulling together a leadership team right now and we need volunteers (aka “Citizen Activators”) to help plan and co-create the action leading up to June 6th. We need help with outreach, running workshops, photography, and logistics to name but a few things. Check out this link for more information. It’s a fantastic way to gain experience, meet cool people, contribute to your community, and build your resume. Why wouldn’t you?

I hope to see you at our next meeting in the New Year! Come, it’s fun. Seriously.

Here’s that link again, future Citizen Activator.

http://www.evergreen.ca/en/positions/entry/100-in-1-day-citizen-activator

Citizen-led Change: The Red Swing Project

 Written by Grace Szucs- 100in1Day Communications & Social Maven

First off, let’s have a round of applause for the citizens and city of Halifax! Why? Well, their efforts prove that we all have the power to create positive, ongoing change in our community.

OK, let’s back up a bit. As part of the 100 in 1 Day festival here in Halifax, The Red Swing Project secretly put up about a dozen bright red, wooden swings around the city. Imagine: you are making your daily trudge across campus when all of a sudden you notice that a familiar tree is bedecked with a bright red swing. Who can resist? This intervention was designed to promote underused public spaces through wonder and surprise, giving people a reason to pause a little longer and enjoy the view (inspired by the international Red Swing Project http://www.redswingproject.org/).

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Understandably, after the main 100 in 1 Day event, the city of Halifax felt the need to step in and question the safety of the swings. Who would maintain them after all? After a short piece on the CBC news on a Friday that suggested the swings were a potential safety hazard and would be taken down, there was a huge backlash from Haligonians including a raging twitter campaign (#redswinghfx). Citizens stood up for wonderment and playfulness, for their autonomy, and for the betterment of their community. Thanks to the supporters, only a day after the media reported the swings would be removed, the city decided to work with the community in order to keep this gem of a social intervention gleaming. Pictures of city officials using the swings were tweeted, and the city took on the maintenance of the swings.

Though all of 100 in 1 Day’s interventions have had an impact on Halifax, The Red Swing Project, which has garnered the most media attention by far, is a supreme example of what 100 in 1 Day is all about: you taking charge of where you live. We thank you.

And just in case you missed all the excitement, here are the links to a few of the articles:

CBC News: Red swings a hit with Haligonians, but not city lawyers

CBC News: #redswinghfx campaign reaches new heights on twitter

CBC News: Swing away, Halifax city hall says in change of heart

CTVAtlantic: Halifax on board with mysterious red swings

CTV CanadaAM: Mysterious red swings popping up around the city

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A BIG THANKS & June 7th photo album!!

On behalf of Evergreen, I would like to thank all the volunteers, intervention leaders, community partners, and those who went out and participated on June 7th for contributing to such a wonderful day! With a mere 4 months of planning time, we really pulled together and created a day where anyone could participate in shaping their city. And while this was a one day event, we hope it highlights the fact that we all have the ability to make small changes in our communities, any day of the year. As Juan Carlos, Montreal 100in1Day coordinator, put it, “The movement is about recognizing individual agency and building community through every possible interaction. It’s not about the extraordinary. It’s about the common..Every second, every interaction, is an opportunity.” It’s my pleasure to share a few intervention highlights from June 7th. Don’t forget to check out the photo album at the bottom of the post! Family Portraits with Tyler John Photography  Family Portraits with Tyler John PhotographyFAMILY PORTRAITS: over 40 families came out to have their portraits taken with Tyler John Photography. This took place in partnership with Chebucto Connections who held a successful clothing swap at the same location.
Guerrilla Gardening with Common Roots Farm GUERRILLA GARDENING: Over 300 sunflowers were planted by three teams throughout the Halifax area with Common Roots Urban Farm First Lake Clean-up FIRST LAKE CLEANUP- collected 6 bags of garbage along the one of the trails at First Lake, Sackville, NS. North End Community Circle Community Garden COMMUNITY GARDEN: the North End Community Circle built 10 raised garden beds at Fort Needham Park. St. Georges Plant Sale by Nicole Holland
ST. GEORGE’S PLANT SALE: had their best sale in years. Money collected will go toward fixing up the parish, which is also used for many community & arts events throughout the year Hike to Suzie's Lake with HNWTA and Diana Whalen HIKE TO SUZIES LAKE w/ MLA DIANA WHALEN: a whopping 53 participants (ages 8-82 years) and 10 dogs participated in a hike Suzie’s Lake HFX Book Swap HFX BOOK SWAP: a great success with 43 locations around the city Red Swing Project RED SWING PROJECT: 12 beautiful red swings were mysteriously hung in public locations.
NATURALIZE YOUR YARD: hundreds of people attended a drop-in session on how to naturalize your yard and create urban wildlife habitat using native plants, held by Sierra Clubs, Halifax Diverse. BIKE BANDIT BENEFACTORS: Distributed over 100 bike accessories and thank you notes to parked bikes throughout the city DAYLIGHTING THE DINING ROOM: 10 families brought their kitchen tables out onto the Bloomfield St. sidewalk to enjoy their dinner outside and with the larger community
You can check out our growing collection of fabulous photos from the day on our Flickr account. If you have any photos from the day, you can send them to 100in1dayhfx@gmail.com https://flic.kr/s/aHsjYWUhFZ
On behalf of the whole 100in1Day group, many thanks!! I feel proud to be part of such a vibrant and generous community.
Julia Evergreen Program Coordinator- Halifax region

Brains Buzzing at Alderney Gate Workshop

Written by Kate Mosher- 100in1Day Volunteer

We set out the tables at the Alderney Gate Library, put out our crackers, veggies, salsa and hummus. The kettle boils and the coffee perks. Around 6:15pm, the participants stream in. Some are in junior high, others are nearing retirement.

May 1st heralds the first of six 100in1Day Halifax Intervention Workshops. The workshops are designed to bring interested citizens together to brainstorm intervention ideas, discuss, plan, conspire and inspire. Upon arrival, some participants already have an idea, some are determining whether they would like to stage their own intervention or support someone else’s, and others have come to learn more and discuss their ideas about fun and meaningful events.

Photo by Nicole Holland

An icebreaker gets us thinking and talking; if your community was a person, what would you ask it?

My partner says “Why so quiet?”, while my neighbour says “Ever heard of a bath?”

I say, “Do you know my name?”

Then Julia and Colleen walk us through the details of 100in1Day – the history, the intent and the logistics.

Down to work, brainstorming: What do we love about Halifax? What would we like to see more of? What could we as citizens do to achieve that?

“Talk to thy neighbour” writes one of the high-school students. “Pop-up street parties” writes another group. “Year-round carolling” is heard from the front; it receives resounding approval.

Photo by Nicole Holland

Photo by Nicole Holland

We chat, we nibble, we sip, we debate. By 8:00pm, everyone’s heads are buzzing with possibilities. One participant thinks she might do Strangers Community Choir. Another can’t decide between a photo booth or a henna activity. Others decide that they want to support the event, but aren’t interested in holding an intervention themselves. We hear a common refrain “I just want to go to all of the events!” “Why can’t it be 100in1Day Weekend?”

On the topic of the workshop, “It’s helpful to have a dedicated space to brainstorm,” Eva says.

“It’s making me excited. I look forward to seeing the smiles on people’s faces, and doing other peoples’ activities too,” says one of the female high school students.

Check out the workshop schedule for one close to your community, happening until June 3rd.

Ready, Set, Submit (your intervention)!

Our intervention submission form is now live!

If you are new to the site, check out our FAQ to learn more about urban interventions and the global local movement that is 100in1Day.

If you’ve been hard at work developing your intervention idea and have decided to commit on June 7 (yay!), go ahead and start your registration here! You’ll be asked to sign up with our partner Projexity with your name and e-mail address, or via Facebook. This will allow you to save a draft of your intervention, or go back and make changes once you’ve submitted.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the specifics (like location and time) figured out yet — you can fill us in at a later date. But be prepared to provide some, if not most, of the following:

  • Contact information
  • Title of the intervention
  • Description of the intervention (who, what, where, when, how)
  • Visuals (one of following: image, video or map)
  • A few ideas around how you will promote your intervention
  • If there are any resources (materials, money, manpower) you could use help finding

There is an option to “Save Draft”, so feel free to start it and come back to it as you get more details sorted out.

Once you have registered, you will start getting support from the 100in1Day volunteer team, who are ready to help connect you with resources and start promoting your awesome intervention (if you so wish)!

Remember, everyone is invited to contribute and no intervention is too small.

If you have any questions not answered on this site, feel free to get in touch at 100in1dayHFX@gmail.com, @100in1DayHFX, or on our Facebook page.

By Frances Woo

(Photo credit: Vancouver Public Space Network)