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,UKJournal of Community PracticePublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information: 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, 35-53To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all theinformation (the Content) contained in the publications on our platform.However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness,or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and viewsexpressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, andare not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of theContent should not be relied upon and should be independently verified withprimary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for anylosses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages,and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of theContent.This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes.Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan,sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 Gamesas a Community-Building StrategyBill Berkowitz, PhDABSTRACT. 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, neighborhoodsThe 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: of Community Practice, Vol. 11(3) 2003 2003 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.Digital Object Identifier: 10.1300/J125v11n03_03 35Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 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 STRATEGIESIssue-Based ApproachesA 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 ApproachesAnother strategy in building community is to organize around com-mon interests. These interests may be vocational, avocational, recre-36 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 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 37Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 These natural and understandable challenges can at least partly beovercome by starting on a small scale, developing group trust, and grad-ually building upon initial success. Interest-based organizing can yieldvaluable and long-lasting results; still, at present, it is not entirely sur-prising that reports of successful, comprehensive, and long-lasting in-terest or skill-sharing systems are hard to find.AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH:THE ROLE OF CELEBRATORY EVENTSThere is a different route to building strong neighborhood and com-munity ties, however, one that goes beyond issues and beyond common in-terests. It is based upon neighborhood- or community-wide eventseventsthat are intentionally created, typically open to all, with little or no cost, butthat provide benefits for everyone taking part. Some of these events aretask oriented (as in clean-ups, or construction); others are festive, ourmain focus here. Block parties are a well-known example of that lattercategory. In such events, somebody decides to take the lead. Flyers aredistributed. Neighbors show up. They eat, drink, socialize, and enjoythemselves. Rarely does one report having a bad time at a block party.These events add to community life; they have no apparent downsides;we ought to have more of them.But they have limitations. For while block parties (and their near rela-tions) are pleasant social events, they tend to be conventional and re-strained. They stay within the bounds of the ordinary; they arentmemorable. They are less effective in instilling a communal neighbor-hood consciousness, or, to extend the point, a sense of unity among resi-dents and a transcendence of self. They are not celebratory, in that fullersense of the word, if that were to be a valued quality in community living.And perhaps it should be. Writing a generation ago, the theologianHarvey Cox argued:Mankind has paid a frightful price for the present opulence ofWestern industrial society . . . He has purchased prosperity at thecost of a staggering impoverishment of the vital elements of hislife. These elements are festivitythe capacity for genuine revelryand joyous celebration, and fantasythe faculty for envisioningradically alternative life situations. (Cox, 1969, p. 7, italics inoriginal)38 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 Coxs claim has historical support. Celebratory events reach back tothe very beginning of recorded historyand perhaps well before, sincethe noted historian Johan Huizinga tells us Play is older than culture(Huizinga, 1970, p. 19). We can find examples in the festivals and ban-quets of ancient Mesopotamia (Nemat-Nejat, 1998) or in the DragonBoat festivals of China, dating back over 2000 years (Wolf, 1996). Thehistory of Western civilization is filled with accounts of festivals andcelebrations, ranging from the temple festivals of Athenian Greece andcontinuing through the pageants, mumming, and maypole dancing oflate medieval and Renaissance times (cf. Auguet, 1975). Early Englishcountry life, at least through the Industrial Revolution, was marked bynumerous festival days and communal holidays, some lasting up to twoweeks; for many of our pre-industrial ancestors, work and play blendedwith relative ease (Rybczynski, 1991, Ch. 5).American society, with its Calvinist and Puritan roots, developed dif-ferently. Few rites and ceremonies punctuated the weeks and months todistract settlers from the hardship of daily life, notes one historian ofearly America (Hawke, 1988, p. 91). The early settlers had arrived with arich heritage of local holidays, fairs, and games from their native villagesand regions; but much of that heritage vanished in America (ibid.). Tothis day, we have relatively few festive or celebratory events in modernAmerican secular society, fewer in most American neighborhoods, andcertainly few in the American suburbs (cf. Berkowitz, 1996; Santino,1994). Instead, we have a paucity of public rituals and traditions, a short-age of collective activities, a lack of occasions for neighbors simply tocome together, much less to engage in joyous celebration or revelry.Compare this, for example, to an event such as Carnival in Brazil,where the performing samba schools are largely neighborhood based,and which is characterized by parades, floats, drumming, nonstop mu-sic, masks, make-up and costumes (for onlookers, as well as marchers),thematic social commentary, pulsating noise, all-night dancing, andgeneralized abandon, along with the capacity for sustained episodes ofintense unambivalent joy (Guillermoprieto, 1990, p. 195). One mightmake a case for the creation of more such events on a local level, suit-ably adapted, minus the drunkenness, drug use, and petty crime, as acatalyst to neighborhood identity, communality, and pride.Occasional related, if somewhat toned-down, events do exist inAmerican culture; public Fourth of July and New Years Eve celebra-tions are two common instances, though these often take place on met-ropolitan or regional scales. In addition, every so often, an externaltriumph may trigger large-scale festive outpourings. For example, afterBill Berkowitz 39Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 the New England Patriots became surprise victors in footballs 2002Super Bowl, a celebration two days later at Bostons City Hall Plazadrew an estimated 1.25 million people in the middle of a mid-winterwork day. What was striking about this event was not only the crowdsizeroughly twice the population of the entire citybut the extent towhich, according to hometown commentators, it served to unify thepopulation, bringing about shared identity and glory in the teamslong-awaited success.Such outside triumphs, of course, cannot be created at will, and theireffects fade rapidly. But it may be instructive to think of how relatedsmaller events might in fact be fostered in communities and neighbor-hoods. Such events, by their non-ordinariness, vividness, joyousness,and festivity, might lodge in memory and hold lasting commu-nity-building value. The community scholar John McKnight has of-fered one version of this ideal:Community groups constantly incorporate celebrations, parties, andsocial events into their activities. The line between work and play isblurred . . . You will know you are in community if you often hearlaughter and singing . . . [Successful communities] celebrate be-cause they work by consent and have the luxury of allowing joyful-ness to join them in their endeavors. (McKnight, 1995, p. 171)This is a view not included in contemporary textbooks or in most othertreatments of community organization and practice (e.g., Bobo, Kendall, &Max, 2001; Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, & Vidal, 2001, among others).But McKnights view is shared here. Local celebratory events can be in-clusive, inexpensive, creative, safe, and fun. They allow neighbors tomeet each other, as equals with shared values, a precondition for cohe-siveness and trust. They can readily be adapted to most community set-tings and most economic conditions. While they cannot substitute fororganizing around vital local issues, they can provide a rich opportunityfor relationship development that will help make such organizing easier.In the belief that celebratory events are undervalued in our society,and that they should play a significant and enhanced role in local com-munity life, this report describes two modest attempts to move in thatdirection within one suburban neighborhood. Of the almost limitlessforms such events could take, the examples chosen here focus on out-door neighborhood-wide games and contests.40 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 THE NEIGHBORHOOD HUNTOverviewThe Neighborhood Hunt was designed as a neighborhood-wide out-door event to stimulate neighborhood consciousness, foster neighbor-hood identity, and promote neighborhood life. It took the form of acontest, in which neighbors were invited to walk along a predeterminedroute in the neighborhood, stop at designated locations, look for a clueat that location, and enter an answer, based upon the clue, in a contestbooklet. Once all answers had been recorded, numbers attached to theclues could be used to complete a saying. The entry with the greatestnumber of correctly identified clues, together with the correct saying,would win a $100 prize.1The Target NeighborhoodThe target neighborhood was located in a statistically-typical metro-politan suburb about eight miles from Boston. The neighborhood waschosen in part because of its relative representativeness and also be-cause of the investigators familiarity with it, both as a long-term resi-dent, as a participant in prior neighborhood activities, and as an electedrepresentative from the neighborhood to local government.The neighborhood itself encompassed an area extending about a milein one direction and half a mile in the other. A pond and two major thor-oughfares served as boundaries on three of its sides. About 900 house-holds, with approximately 2,000 residents, lived within the neighborhood,mostly in single-family homes, but also in some multi-family units andapartment buildings. Neighborhood residents were predominantly Cauca-sian and of middle- to upper-middle economic levels, a pattern similar tomany suburban communities nearby, regionally, and nationally. Afterconsideration of different possibilities, the Neighborhood Hunt waschosen as an event that would be likely to work in this particular set-ting.Publicizing the EventFive months before the event, a first notice about the NeighborhoodHunt was placed in the local Neighborhood Newsletter, a publicationregularly distributed door-to-door to households in the target neighbor-Bill Berkowitz 41Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 hood without charge. A longer article, with some contest details, wasprinted in the next newsletter issue, one month before the Hunt started.Brightly-colored notices about the Hunt were then affixed to tele-phone poles throughout the neighborhood in three separate waves of50-75 each, to build curiosity, interest, and participation. The first,headed THE NEIGHBORHOOD HUNT IS COMING! was postedabout three weeks before the event. The second, headed Its AlmostHere . . . was displayed 1-2 weeks before the event; and the third,headed THE NEIGHBORHOOD HUNT IS ON! appeared at aboutthe same time the actual Hunt began.Beginning three days before the Hunt, contest booklets were deliv-ered door-to-door to all 900 households in the target neighborhood. Thefolded four-page booklet, printed in colored ink on 8 1/2 by 11 paper,described the Hunt and its rationale, provided full contest instructions,and gave details on how to submit an entry.2 Anyone in the neighbor-hood was eligible to enter and win the contest. An optional $5 entry feewas requested to help support printing costs and the prize.Participating in the HuntThe Hunt itself began and ended in late June at the entrance to aneighborhood park, and covered a walking route of about 1.4 milesthrough neighborhood streets; trial runs suggested that it could be com-pleted in about 1 1/2 hours at an average walking pace. It was also possi-ble to complete different segments of the Hunt at different times, aslong as the entire Hunt was completed within the specified 10-day con-test period.Those taking part in the Hunt were instructed to stop at 15 differentlocations along the route, answer a question based on what they physi-cally observed at that location, and enter the answer in the contest book-let. Three sample questions follow:42 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 Correct answers fit exactly in the spaces to the right of each clue. Inaddition, 29 of the letter spaces had a number printed directly beneaththem. When all clue questions had been answered, the contestant wasasked to transfer the letters above each of those numbers to create a say-ing about neighborhood life, which in this case was:taken from the Greek poet Hesiod, circa 8th Century B.C.In practice, the full instructions turned out to be clear to all who en-tered.Bill Berkowitz 43Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 ResultsThe immediate results of the Neighborhood Hunt are noted below.Beyond those results, a major concern is establishing the criteria bywhich neighborhood events such as these should be judged. This con-cern is treated at greater length in the discussion following both events.Fifty-four entries to the Neighborhood Hunt were received. Seventypercent of these were group or family entries, yielding a total of at least110 people who formally participated. Slightly more than half the en-tries were from parents together with their children; several were sub-mitted by children directly; one entry came from a neighborhood parrot.Several other neighbors were known to have participated in the Hunt,but did not submit a formal entry. As one further measure of support forthe event, 90% of the contestants included the optional $5 entry fee;about 25% voluntarily contributed more than $5 to support printingcosts and the prize.In addition, because the Neighborhood Hunt was an outdoor andpublic event, those engaged in the Hunt were visible on the street to oth-ers; they carried their contest booklets and stopped to look for clues,thus drawing added attention. The investigator informally observed in-teractions of contestants with other neighbors, as well as photographsbeing taken. At least a dozen entrants also volunteered positive com-ments on their contest formse.g., This was really great; Thanks fora wonderful hunt; This was a great idea and so much funthough thisand other informal positive feedback received, while encouraging, is atbest suggestive.FIND YOUR NEIGHBORSIn the Neighborhood Hunt, a single investigator had invited neigh-bors to walk through the neighborhood and look for physical objects. Adifferent neighborhood event might be more collaboratively plannedand executed; it might also focus instead on people, more specificallyon activities that would encourage neighbors to engage in social inter-action, and to contact their neighbors in ways they had not done so be-fore. Three years after the Hunt, with collaboration from the localNeighborhood Newsletter editor and others, sketches of such a possibleevent were drafted and circulated for comment among neighborhoodleaders and town meeting members from the target neighborhoods pre-cincts.44 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 OverviewAfter several revisions, the planned event evolved into a contest calledFind Your Neighbors. Participants would get points for meeting neigh-bors, especially neighbors they had not previously known. Such neighbors,once met, would sign their names on the contestants score sheet. Therewould be extra points for meeting and signing up certain categories ofneighborsthose met while the contestant was out walking in the neighbor-hood; those new to the neighborhood (having moved in within the past twoyears); and those born and raised in the neighborhood. Additional pointswould be scored if the contestant convinced another neighbor to enter thecontest, as evidenced by that other neighbors entry.The most points, however, would be given for spotting a MysteryNeighbor, dressed in a distinctive mask, plumed turban, and long em-broidered gown, who could be found walking the neighborhood streetsin different unpublicized locations at some time during each evening foreach day of the two-week contest. When approached, the MysteryNeighbor would give out a red fluorescent sticker (The Seal of theMystery Neighbor) that could be affixed to the contestants scoresheet.Two cash prizes, of $100 each, would be awarded to the contestantsigning up the largest number of neighbors and also to the contestantwith the greatest number of total points. There would also be a neigh-borhood party in the park during the middle of the contest (in lateJune), which would be a stand-alone event, but which would alsoserve as an easy opportunity for people to come and meet new neigh-bors. Following further discussion and redraftings, a contest bookletdescribing the event together with appropriate instructions was thendesigned.PublicityAs with the Neighborhood Hunt, a key step prior to booklet distribu-tion was to get the word out to neighbors, so as to stimulate interest andencourage participation. Publicity for Find Your Neighbors tookplace in the same target neighborhood and proceeded along the samegeneral lines as that for the Hunt. Specific activities included: (a) insert-ing an early notice in the Neighborhood Newsletter; (b) posting a noticeabout the planning for the event on an electronic Neighborhood NewsLink; (c) distributing a preview Coming Soon! flyer, door-to-door toall 900 homes in the target neighborhood, about ten days before the startBill Berkowitz 45Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 of the event; (d) sending separate mailings of the preview flyer, with anadditional cover letter, to the contestants in the prior Neighborhood Hunt;and (e) sending similar mailings to households of about 90 neighborhoodparents whose children were enrolled in the neighborhoods public ele-mentary school. These were supplemented by group e-mails.In addition, three differently-colored flyers were posted on telephonepoles throughout the neighborhood about a week prior to the event.These flyers, about 150 in all, were similar in general appearance tothose for the Neighborhood Hunt. Each contained different text: Oneflyer advertised the event, the second the park party, and the third theMystery Neighbor feature.One week before the June event, the actual contest booklet, with de-tailed contest instructions and a scoring sheet, was distributed door-to-doorin the same manner as the preview flyer. The booklet itself (four foldedpages, in colored ink, on 8 1/2 x 11 colored paper) took the same generalform as that for the Neighborhood Hunt. Each household in the targetneighborhood, therefore, had at least two direct publicity exposures tothe event. During the time of the actual contest, daily updates about theevent as well as the final results were in addition posted on a highly visi-ble bulletin board immediately inside the main park entrance.3ResultsTen formal entries to the Find Your Neighbors contest were received.Seventy-seven different neighbors signed the contest forms, indicatingthat they were approached by and had conversational encounters withneighbors they had not previously known. One hundred eighty-one totalsignatures, presumably reflecting an equivalent number of separate en-counters, were collected and submitted in all.The neighborhood park party, intended in part to stimulate meeting newneighbors, had partial success. On the scheduled day, heavy thunderstormsswept through the area just before the event, forcing its postponement. Theparty was rescheduled for the following weekend, on the last day of thecontest; flyers were reposted on telephone poles. Although severe thunder-storms were again forecast on that afternoon, about 40 neighbors, manywith contest sheets, turned out and picnicked until the rains arrived.The costumed Mystery Neighbor feature appeared to be unequivo-cally successful, as suggested in part by these brief vignettes collectedfrom those neighbors taking on the Mystery Neighbor role: Childrenraced down the street more than once to get the Mystery Neighbors sig-46 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 nature. . . . Adults got out of their cars to pursue the Mystery Neighbor aswell. . . . On the first night of the contest, at least two neighborhood driv-ers pulled over to the side of the road upon spotting the Mystery Neigh-bor. The grade-school children inside one car called out, Hey, theres themystery dude. . . . An adult couple eating dinner on their porch leapt upand rushed out to greet the Mystery Neighbor when they saw him on thestreet, breaking a wine glass in so doing. . . . Other neighbors spotting theMystery Neighbor asked to have their photos taken together with him.Qualitatively, no negative comments or reactions were recorded re-garding the Mystery Neighbor or about the contest generally. Manyother adults on the street not wishing to approach the Mystery Neighborgave friendly smiles and waves. Informal investigator interactions withneighbors both during publicity stages and during the contest itself wereuniformly positive. Most neighbors did seem to know about the eventoneneighbor reported that it caused quite a stirthough private feelings ofneighbors were not assessed.What do these combined data and observations tell us about the im-pact of these events?EVALUATION:THE IMPACT OF THE EVENTSIt is important to evaluate these events, but it is highly challenging todo so with accuracy and reliability. Still, both the evaluation and thechallenges must be adequately addressed.Evaluative MeasuresOne key evaluative measure here is participation, i.e., the raw num-bers of neighbors taking part. Such participation data, as defined bycontest entries, are easy to collect. Their interpretation, though, isclouded by the lack of an adequate baselinewhat should be the expec-tation level for participation here? Since these types of events had neverbefore occurred locally, and very rarely elsewhere in similar settings,by what standard should participation levels be judged?On the one hand, both neighborhood events did arouse interest andgenerate participation; the fact that even a few neighbors were moti-vated to track down clues or meet new people might be counted as a suc-cess. On the other hand, one may have wished that participation levelshad been higher, and it is quite possible that with different event designBill Berkowitz 47Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 they might have been. Yet it may also be true that very large percent-ages of suburban neighbors are not going to take part (at least not di-rectly) in neighborhood games or contests, no matter how enticing. Forfirst-time ventures such as these, one could argue that participation rateswere satisfactory, or even encouraging, more so for the NeighborhoodHunt. By contrast, however, another observer could look at the samenumbers and draw different conclusions.What other evaluative indicators are relevant here? The 181 re-corded encounters between previously-unmet neighbors in the FindYour Neighbors event were notable, although the small number ofcontest entries submitted was somewhat disappointing. Multiple addi-tional neighborhood encounters took place with the Mystery Neighborwhen he or she appeared on the street. The voluntary donations givenby 90% of the participants in the Neighborhood Hunt were gratifying,while the presence of over 100 hunters on the streets presumably at-tracted further (though unmeasured) attention. In addition, unsolicitedqualitative feedback directly volunteered by neighbors, as well as in-direct word-of-mouth comments, were each entirely positive for bothevents, as noted in the Results sections above.Other Evaluative PossibilitiesIt would also have been possible to interview or survey those whoparticipated in either event, or samples of those who had heard aboutthe events but did not actively participate, or samples who had notheard about the events at all. None of these assessments was con-ducted here, which might be seen as a research flaw. One obstacle incarrying out such assessments, however, was that many neighborswere known to the investigator, and thus perhaps reluctant to criti-cize, this over and above common social desirability and acquies-cence biases. And while independent evaluators, if available, mighthave been used, such evaluation might have detracted from the cele-bratory intent of the events. Those participating because the eventsseemed like simple fun might have been disillusioned to learn thatthey were unknowingly part of a research study. Trust may havebeen weakened, contrary to the purpose. Yet it would not haveseemed appropriate in this instance to publicize that evaluative aimin advance. There is a methodological and possibly ethical issue ofevaluative appropriateness here.48 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 Longer-Term EffectsWhile the immediate objectives of both the Neighborhood Hunt andFind Your Neighbors were to test the possibilities of neighborhoodcelebratory events, and also to be enjoyable for neighbors, a longer-rangegoal was to examine whether these activities had any discernible lon-ger-term impact on neighborhood life, lasting beyond the events them-selves. Unfortunately, in the writers view, this cannot be certainly known.The reason has less to do with these particular events and more with theevaluation of broad-scale community activities as a type, when not spe-cifically targeted to a particular population and without specific outcomegoals.Many community interventions, perhaps most, have defined recipi-ents and preset measurable objectivesthe construction of housingunits, for example, or the development of new jobs, an increase in clinicvisits, a reduction in crime. Should these objectives be achieved, the in-tervention is judged successful. For other types of activities, thoughcul-tural, recreational, artistic, spiritual, and also festivethe longer-termoutcomes are more difficult both to specify and to measure. Those out-comes may occur (though of course not inevitably), but they are morelikely to be diffuse, their connection to preceding events inherently lessclear. The consequences of viewing an art exhibit, or attending a churchservice, or participating in a festive event may leave minute, private,and cumulative behavioral residues manifesting some time later or notat all, beyond our present or foreseeable ability to predict or detect.We may propose that these neighborhood events yielded positivebenefits transcending the events themselves and justifying the energyexpended, that they fostered social connections and strengthened neigh-borhood life in modest ways. We may be right. But that proposition, itmust truthfully and reluctantly be said, rests partially on faith. Natu-rally, we would prefer and should seek clear and compelling evidence.Yet such evidence, for these and many other wide-ranging communityinterventions, is hard to come by, and, given the nature of the phenom-ena being studied, probably always will be.The sustaining faith here is based on the premise that in buildingcommunities it is important to find ways to transcend the ordinary, toconduct activities that are unusual, surprising, spirited, and joyful, espe-cially in a fast-paced and stressful world. Celebratory events, broadlydefined here, are one way of doing so; they supplement community tra-ditions, rituals, and activities that may already exist, or stimulate themwhen, too often, they do not. Such events may work imperfectly, butBill Berkowitz 49Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 they will rarely fail. They will help keep community hopes and dreamsalive until something better comes along.DESIGNING FUTURE EVENTSThat something better may derive from the events conducted here.Both the Neighborhood Hunt and Find Your Neighbors taughtandretaughtlessons that should apply to future event design. In retrospect,the Neighborhood Hunt may have attracted more direct participationbecause it had a distinct end point (the finish of the walk), could be com-pleted within a moderate time (about 90 minutes), and contained a moreverifiable contest solution (the correct word puzzle saying), yielding agreater perceived chance of winning. Find Your Neighbors, on the otherhand, was more open ended, potentially more time consuming, and hadno easy reference point for completion or for determining ones likeli-hood of winning the contest.An additional limitation of the Find Your Neighbors event may havebeen insufficient readiness to participate. Although the target neighbor-hood is perceived as friendly and safe by many residents, the task of ap-proaching a stranger on the street, even if a neighbor, and making arequest, even if only for a signature, may have been psychologically toodifficult and discomfiting for manyor at least not sufficiently reward-ing. And in order to win a prize, the same acts would need to be repeatedmany times over, thus calling for significant time investment. Thesecombined factors were perhaps not adequately taken into account inevent design.In capsule form then, the lessons learned suggest that celebratoryevents, just as any type of event, should be:1. Collaboratively planned, with as many neighbors and existingneighborhood organizations as possible being involved early on;2. Vigorously publicized, at multiple points in time and through mul-tiple channels, especially by word of mouth and via existing net-works, including both the event planners and local opinion leaders;3. High in perceived benefits, which in this case would include somecombination of fun, novelty, excitement, learning, competition,and possibly material incentive;4. Low in perceived costs, here meaning that the event should beeasy to access, simple to complete, self-contained, time limited,and with little or no perceived risk attached;50 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 5. Visible on the streets, and visibly modeled by local opinion lead-ers, so that others can see it, enjoy it, and ideally be motivated tojoin in;6. Reported in local media and through less formal outlets, to furtherlegitimize the event, to instill it in community memory, and tostrengthen the base for similar events in the future; and7. Finally, the event should be consistent with the nature of theneighborhood in question, so that neighbors are ready to take part.An event such as a Neighborhood Hunt might not work well inlower-density neighborhoods, or where sufficient neighborhoodidentity or trust did not previously exist. Other and possibly simplerevents might then be more effective, while larger-scale and morecomplex events might be more feasible and beneficial in highly co-hesive neighborhoods with a track record of smaller-level eventsuccess.These lessons are grounded in basic principles of psychology and ofcommunity organization. Following them, we believe, will lead to moresuccessful events in the future, with higher rates of participation andgreater extension of impact.PROMOTING CELEBRATORY EVENTSIN NEIGHBORHOOD LIFEOne month after the Find Your Neighbors event ended, a differentneighborhood event took place in the local park, a free outdoor perfor-mance of Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream. The show wasindependently initiated and supported in large part by the Friends ofMenotomy Rocks Park, a separate neighborhood organization specifi-cally dedicated to park improvement issues. The actors came from theTrinity Repertory Company, one of New Englands leading theatersforthis regionally-acclaimed company to perform in a neighborhood parkwas remarkable, and was considered something of a coup.On a beautiful midsummers evening, several hundred neighbors andresidents brought lawn chairs and picnics to watch the play unfold on agrassy embankment. Refreshments were sold before the show; local or-ganizations were promoted; greetings were exchanged; social capitalwas built. During the play, Theseus, the Duke of Athens, speaking to hisaide, gives voice to sentiments expressed earlier in this paper:Bill Berkowitz 51Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 Come now, what masques, what dances shall we have,To wear away this long age of three hoursBetween our after-supper and bed-time?Where is our usual manager of mirth?What revels are in hand? Is there no play,To ease the anguish of a torturing hour?. . . How shall we beguileThe lazy time, if not with some delight?Those delights, though, are needed by everyone, not just by those for-tunate to find them nearby.Though no formal assessment was attempted, many of those attend-ing felt that this park event was memorable. Yet the performance wouldnot have existed without the friends of the park organization, which inturn would not have arisen without a substrate of prior neighborhoodcohesion, which cohesion, one might argue, itself rested upon a founda-tion of prior neighborhood events and activities. The causal pathwayshere may not be quantifiable, nor always clearly marked, but they canbe traced by those looking closely.As community builders and practitioners, we should seek out andtake advantage of all opportunities to strengthen community life avail-able to us. Important community issues will always need to be ad-dressed. Networks of shared community interests should always bedeveloped. Sometimes, educational and training programs may becalled for. Other times, new organizations may need to be created, orexisting ones bolstered from within. A practiced community buildershould be prepared to respond with flexibility, and with a variety ofskills.But another strategy at our disposal is to build community throughthe planning and execution of celebratory eventsthrough games, con-tests, rituals, and festivals, through events that are deliberately playfulin the broad sense of the word, and that are designed to reach and touchthe human spirit as few conventional organizing activities can. Whilesuch events have probably existed since the dawn of civilization, theirimplementation and their empirical effects are still largely unexplored.We ought to explore them to the limits of our investigative ability, forthey have the power to bring added richness and depth, and comfort andjoy, to our community lives.52 JOURNAL OF COMMUNITY PRACTICEDownloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014 NOTES1. The Neighborhood Hunt was based on a concept designed and previously uti-lized by Eric Albert. Thanks also to Eric for his very helpful advice in its applicationhere.2. A copy of the contest booklet for the Neighborhood Hunt, and also for the FindYour Neighbors event described immediately following, may be obtained by contact-ing the author at Appreciation is expressed to Mary Cummings and MaryAnna Foskett for theircreativity in event design, to Sue Sheffler, Judi Bohn, and Haley Slafer for their assis-tance in event publicity, and to Mary and Will Cummings, Gene Benson, and DanaRudin for playing the role of the Mystery Neighbor.REFERENCESAuguet, R. (1975). Festivals and celebrations. New York: Franklin Watts.Berkowitz, B. (1996). Personal and community sustainability. American Journal ofCommunity Psychology, 24, 439-459.Bobo, K., Kendall, J., & Max, S. (2001). Organizing for social change (3rd ed.). SantaAna, CA: Seven Locks Press.Chaskin, R. J., Brown, P., Venkatesh, S., & Vidal, A. (2001). Building community ca-pacity. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Cox, H. (1969). The feast of fools: A theological essay on festivity and fantasy. Cam-bridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Guillermoprieto, A. (1990). Samba. New York: Knopf.Hawke, D. F. (1988). Everyday life in early America. New York: Harper & Row.Huizinga, J. (1970). Homo ludens: A study of the play element in culture. New York:Harper & Row.Kretzmann, J. P., McKnight, J. L., & Puntenney, D. (1998). A guide to creating aneighborhood information exchange: Building communities by connecting localskills and knowledge. Chicago: ACTA Publications.Kretzmann, J. P., McKnight, J. L., & Sheehan, G. (1997). A guide to capacity invento-ries: Mobilizing the community skills of local residents. Chicago: ACTA Publica-tions.McKnight, J. (1995). The careless society: Community and its counterfeits. New York:BasicBooks.Nemet-Nejat, K. R. (1998). Daily life in ancient Mesopotamia. Westport, CT: Green-wood Press.Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American commu-nity. New York: Simon & Schuster.Rybczynski, W. (1991). Waiting for the weekend. New York: Viking.Santino, J. (1994). All around the year: Holidays and celebrations in American life.Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Wolf, B. (1996). Gatherings and celebrations: History, folklore, rituals and recipesfor the occasions that bring people together. New York: Doubleday.Bill Berkowitz 53Downloaded by [York University Libraries] at 17:21 21 November 2014


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