Building Blocks of Kalamazoo
STRENGTHENING COMMUNITY THROUGH “URBAN BARN RAISING”
Building Blocks is a collaborative effort of representatives from many community organizations, a collaboration that organizes local residents around the physical and social revitalization of their neighborhoods. Through this street-level community organizing, residents are able to strengthen social bonds, strengthen the collective voice of the neighborhood and play a main role in the development of their own communities. Residents in each target site volunteer their labor to projects which they have selected. The success of these activities depends upon the voluntary and cooperative efforts of neighborhood residents. They work together to improve not only their own homes, but also their neighbors’ homes. Residents also volunteer their time, preparing food, supervising projects, or offering their homes for meeting space. Most importantly, through cooperation and involvement in the project activities, residents bond with each other and ensure a sense of commitment to their streets and their neighborhood associations.
Although Building Blocks operates in distinctively small sites, the cumulative effect of its activities is impressive. Over the past 20 years the program has enabled some 1,500 households in the city’s low- and low-to-moderate income neighborhoods to upgrade their homes when few other discretionary funds were available. Of more lasting importance, Building Blocks has helped to regenerate community ties in 150 street-level target sites, supporting improvements and enhancing general quality of life as neighbors step forward to take collective responsibility. Neighborhood associations have also benefited from the influx of new leaders and new loyalties from local residents.