Neighbor power

Jim Diers, the former director of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods, is out and about in our neighborhoods, and what a joy it is to see him in action again. His enthusiasm is a stunning antidote to any feelings of despair and hopelessness. He possesses this incredible ability to make great things happen in spite of mean adversity.

So, ironically, we should all be thanking Mayor Nickels for firing Jim. Jim took his newfound free time and wrote the book "Neighbor Power: Building Community the Seattle Way" (University of Washington Press). The ideas, along with case studies, clearly show the benefits derived from empowering a city's citizens. Now the strategies for community development that he built and refined over many years are being used in cities around the world.

This Saturday, Feb. 12, will be the 11th annual observance of Neighbor Appreciation Day. In his book Jim devotes a chapter to the history of this grassroots holiday. It is a great story, but only one of many in his book. There are fascinating project stories, with accompanying fiscal and specific project details, and there are stories about the political history of the department's development. The first word of his chapter titles shows all the underlying actions and philosophies in the program: Valuing, Organizing, Connecting, Building, Cultivating, Sustaining, Celebrating, Modeling, Replicating.

I would like to encourage all my neighbors to participate in a Neighbor Appreciation Day event this Saturday. If it is your first time, you will undoubtedly feel awkward and out of place, but I guarantee that there will be some unexpected and pleasurable surprises! Isn't that actually true of all "first-time" events?

And some of the payoffs do not make themselves known until many years later. I remember how inept I felt on the day I joined with my neighbors to plant 680 street trees. I was quite surprised to find such strong animosity emanating from some people who did not approve of the project. However, it was very satisfying when we got the tree upright in its planting hole and securely staked. But we couldn't admire our work for too long because there was what appeared to be a never-ending view of trees still waiting to be planted. We got the job done. We were sorely tired. Over the years I have watched as those trees have taken hold in our community. Neighbors who hated them now lovingly tend to them. Canopies are starting to form, giving the streets an impressive seasonal aspect. And I have my fond memories of that chaotic and at times awkward planting day. Now it is time to make some new neighbor memories, and I hope you will join me this Saturday.

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