neighborhood games as a community-building strategy

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  • This article was downloaded by: [York University Libraries]On: 21 November 2014, At: 17:21Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

    Journal of Community PracticePublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wcom20

    Neighborhood Games as aCommunity-Building StrategyBill Berkowitz PhD aa Department of Psychology , University ofMassachusetts Lowell , 870Broadway Street, Suite#1, Lowell , MA , 01854 , USA E-mail:Published online: 22 Sep 2008.

    To cite this article: Bill Berkowitz PhD (2003) Neighborhood Games as a Community-Building Strategy, Journal of Community Practice, 11:3, 35-53

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J125v11n03_03

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    http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Neighborhood Gamesas a Community-Building Strategy

    Bill Berkowitz, PhD

    ABSTRACT. This paper discusses the use of neighborhood games andcontests as an alternative approach to community building, and as a com-plement to traditional issue or interest organizing. It places these activi-ties within the broader contexts of celebration and festivity, noting therelative lack of such events within modern American secular culture.The planning, implementation, and results of two neighborhood-widegames and contests are then described, as carried out in a representativesuburban neighborhood. Though full and accurate evaluation is chal-lenging, the community-building promise of these activities is docu-mented. The prospects for future development and use of similarcommunity events are then considered. [Article copies available for a feefrom The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: Website: 2003by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

    KEYWORDS. Celebrations, community building, community organi-zation, contests, games, neighborhoods

    The benefits of strong and supportive local community life have bynow been well established. Cohesive neighborhoods and communitiesare associated with, for example, better physical health, greater emo-

    Bill Berkowitz, PhD, is Associate Professor of Psychology at the Department ofPsychology, 870 Broadway Street, Suite #1, University of Massachusetts Lowell,Lowell, MA 01854 (E-mail: Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu).

    Journal of Community Practice, Vol. 11(3) 2003http://www.haworthpress.com/web/COM

    2003 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.Digital Object Identifier: 10.1300/J125v11n03_03 35

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  • tional well-being, lower crime rates, and improved outcomes for chil-dren (e.g., Putnam, 2000). A key question for community practitionersis how those supportive and cohesive local settings can best comeabout. A likely answer is that a variety of community-building ap-proaches is called for.

    This paper focuses on a relatively overlooked approach in modern com-munity practicethe design and implementation of neighborhood-basedcelebratory events. The nature and advantages of this approach may becomeclearer by first comparing it with other community-building strategies.

    TRADITIONAL STRATEGIES

    Issue-Based Approaches

    A traditional and often essential community-building approach isbased upon addressing local community issues. Sometimes an issue isimmediately and dramatically apparent; other times it is chosen fromamong different reported community needs. Typically, a plan is thencreated to resolve the issue and generate community benefits. Partici-pants to implement the plan are next recruited, publicity is generated,funding is solicited, planned actions are taken, and the outcomes areevaluated. If the desired results are obtained, community capacity, com-munity identity, and community relationships may all be strengthened.

    An issue-oriented approach can be highly effective as long as salientissues can be found. But in many communities and neighborhoods, nosuch issues may be present. This may be true in particular for many sub-urban communitiesthe type of community in which, according to de-mographers, about 55% of the U.S. population lives.

    Consider a prototypical suburb: the homes are well maintained; thestreets are peaceful and quiet; the neighborhoods are relatively safe; theschools are moderately good; the services are generally effective; and resi-dents seem happy enough to be where they are. Visible issues, though, maybe absentthat is, local issues perceived and articulated with emotion by adiscernible resident core. Though hard data are lacking, this situation mayhold true for the majority of suburban communities and for numerous othercommunities and neighborhoods at any given point in time.

    Interest-Based Approaches

    Another strategy in building community is to organize around com-mon interests. These interests may be vocational, avocational, recre-

    36 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICE

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  • ational, educational, spiritual, or purely social. Parishioners, forexample, have a common interest in their church. Parents have a com-mon interest in the education of their children. Other residents may joinaround common interests in politics or reading, gardening or softball.

    Organizing around interests is convenient and feasible when infor-mal community ties are strong, or when there are existing organiza-tional structures through which these interests can be expressed andsharedthe church, the school, the garden club, the softball league. Butwhen those structures are weak, or lacking altogether, and especiallywhen community cohesion is low to begin with, interest organizing be-comes less effective. Its harder for people to associate because thereare no easy ways to know what common interests are, or where to findlike-minded people. If someone wanted to start (or join) a meditationgroup, or poker game, or food-buying club, where would that person be-gin?

    To facilitate bringing people together around interests, some recentattention has been given to the proactive and systematic collection of in-terest data, along with and the formation of interest-group structures,among community residents through capacity inventories, asset surveys,and similar means. Kretzmann, McKnight, and colleagues (Kretzmann,McKnight, & Puntenney, 1998; Kretzmann, McKnight, & Sheehan,1997) describe several practical techniques for doing so; they provideseveral interest and asset collection forms, and offer detailed case ex-amples. Suggestions for creating institutional structures to maintain in-terest and skill sharing are set forth as well.

    But while the intent of these initiatives may be laudable, the evidencethat actual collection of such data has produced specific and sustainedresults sufficient to justify the effort is less well documented. This isprobably because there are multiple challenges to using interest data incommunity practice. First, some person or group, quite possibly unpaid,must be willing to undertake the data collection effort. Second, thosebeing surveyed must be willing to reveal their interests or skills to (mostlikely) relative strangers. Third, the respondents must be willing for thatpersonal information to become public, or semi-public. Fourth, provi-sions must next be made for distribution of that information throughoutthe target area, so that it is easily accessible to all. Fifth, residents mustthen feel comfortable both in initiating contacts with people they dontknow, and responding sympathetically to others requests as well.Finally, some person or group, either the initiators or others, must con-tinually maintain and update the database and its underlying organiza-tional structure.

    Bill Berkowitz 37

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