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Cultivating the Power of Residents to Build Community: Lessons from Kitchener

Posted on March 12, 2018
By Heather Keam


Over the past three decades, there has been a shift in how we connect with one another. Today, people report fewer informal social ties, decrease in tolerance and trust, and an eroding political and civic engagement atmosphere in our communities. Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community suggests that our overall experiences of being in community have been steadily declining since the 1960s. Research by Holt-Lunstad et al. suggests that social isolation has serious negative consequences for our health and well-being – the impact is likened to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Building communities that bring residents together and help them feel a sense of belonging and connection are more likely to live longer, be healthier, be happier, and act for the common good.

While municipalities have traditionally focused on the built components of a neighbourhood -  paving sidewalks and roads or building houses, parks and arenas - cities across Canada are now realizing that city building also includes the people who live, work and play in each neighbourhood. 

The City of Kitchener’s neighbourhood strategy and engagement process, called Love My Hood, is one great example of how a city cultivated the power of residents to develop a neighbourhood strategy. The City of Kitchener has a strong history of working with their communities through the development of 13 community centers and 30 neighbourhood associations. Building on these strengths, the City recognized that there needed to be a more comprehensive approach to neighbourhood development. The City’s engagement process reached over 5,000 residents. They heard from many different community groups, such as neighbourhood associations, schools, faith communities, cultural clubs, sports teams, youth and seniors’ groups, to name a few.  The City’s engagement process included the following:

  • Going to where the people are. Setting up a lemonade stand at neighbourhood events and gathering places across the city.
  • Throwing a party. Re-imagining traditional public consultation meetings as a family friendly party.
  • Asking tough questions. Hosted first with staff and then with residents, a “red tape” reduction workshop.
  • Online discussions. Residents were given an open-ended forum to post their own ideas for making great neighbourhoods.
  • Testing placemaking. Residents were encouraged to try placemaking themselves! Nine groups of residents received grants to do placemaking.

Read more about Kitchener’s engagement strategy in our recently published Case Study and see how your city can also make a difference for your neighbourhoods. 

Learn More:

Community Building, Neighbourhood Strategy, Blog

Heather Keam

By Heather Keam

Heather is happy to be part of the Vibrant Communities team as the Manager of Cities, Cities Deepening Community. Before this position she was the Manager of Learning Services where she organized Community of Practices, learning opportunities, tools and resources for community change. Heather brings over 12 years of public health knowledge to this position.

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