When we’re lucky enough to have a group like San Francisco’s Inner Sunset Park Neighbors (ISPN) nurturing an abundant community in our own backyard, every day is Thanksgiving Day.
It’s as if the key members of this volunteer-driven community-based neighborhood advocacy group leaped right out of the pages of John McKnight and Peter Block’s The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods and from their Abundant Community website, for this dynamic and incredibly flexible organization, with less than a dozen board members and a membership of approximately 200 people, manages to be at the heart of many of the most visible and positive initiatives developing in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset District.
Explore the Inner Sunset Sundays street fairs that will have brought well over 5,000 people together in a festive block-long celebration of community by the end of 2012 and you’ll see the results of collaboration between ISPN members and other members of our extended community. Read the community bulletin board announcements posted in the heart of the neighborhood’s business district and you’ll see an invitation to participate in the wide range of activities and take advantage of the numerous services available in the neighborhood—because Inner Sunset Park Neighbor members worked diligently through the local permit process for permission to build and place that bulletin board in a key community meeting place.
Walk through the Inner Sunset Farmers Market that has been open nearly every Sunday morning throughout the year since June 2009, and you’ll see the fruit of ISPN collaborations with the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association and others who transformed a drab, narrow street-level parking lot into a vibrant meeting place where neighbors shop, stop to chat, and learn, through their conversations, of the latest developments and community events that draw us all together into a community of citizens rather than a group of consumers anxious to buy and run.
This is an organization with a clear, appealing, and inclusive mission: “to engage with all Inner Sunset residents—renters, homeowners and business owners—to improve quality of life, build a sense of community, and generate pride in our neighborhood.” It’s also an organization that is neither rule-bound nor resting on its laurels. It offers an umbrella of support to groups interested in initiating and completing projects that further strengthen the sense of community and neighborhood, as is obvious through the support and collaboration offered to the current Hidden Garden Steps project. It also has board members that freely move in and out of the ISPN structure to support other independent neighborhood initiatives such as the Public Bench Project. And, through conversations that begin at gatherings such as the Inner Sunset Sundays street fairs, it fosters discussions about dreams along the lines of transforming a block-long area of the neighborhood business district into an attractive pedestrian mall that would further support the sense of community that places like the Inner Sunset District provide.
Conversation and exchanges, as McKnight and Block note throughout The Abundant Community, do help us in “awakening the power of families and neighborhoods”; that’s one of ISPN’s key strengths. Where the writers suggest steps including efforts at “making visible the gifts of everyone in the neighborhood” by identifying “gifts, skills, and capacities” that neighbors are willing to share with each other, ISPN members already informally engage in that sort of action by inviting neighbors to share their skills in venues including the street fairs. The November 2012 fair, for example, included neighbors providing brief workshops on more than a dozen topics including basic bicycle maintenance, bench-making, composting, garden tool maintenance, disaster preparedness, CPR, and juggling. Potluck dinners in a neighborhood church community meeting room have included opportunities to discuss and promote events and actions that contribute further to community development—an idea that parallel’s McKnight and Block’s proposal for “listening tables where community members “establish an agenda for community friendliness.”
The point of all of this is that we do have choices. We can allow ourselves to be buried under what appear to be insurmountable differences that prevent members of communities from coming together in any sort of mutually agreed upon plan of action. Or we can start, in small numbers, with those who are agile, creative, and determined enough to take tiny steps that lead toward significant and positive results.
ISPN members and supporters clearly understand that the hard work that goes into organizing these efforts can be rewarding. And fun. And well worth pursuing. It’s up to the rest of us to decide what we can do to be part of that process. And to support the groups that are already in place.
N.B.: This is the third of a four-part series of articles exploring abundant communities
Next: The Hidden Garden Steps as an Abundant Community Group