Solutions for Self-Reliance

Is Community Resilience Contagious?


Here are two extremely simple ways to get a neighborhood thinking like a community.   It’s always amazing to me how even a small project can grow into a community wide project that is trans-formative.

Put your thinking caps on, we need more small projects like these to spur our communities to take the path to resilience and success.

Contagious Cleanliness 

The first approach is based on a social science concept called “broken windows.”  Essentially, broken windows theory works like this (Kelling/Wilson):

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.

So, the theory goes, if you stop the minor problems rather than ignoring them, you prevent the big ones.  This theory became very popular in the late 1990s as a way to stop crime.  Cities posted cops on street corners to crack down on vandalism and minor infractions.  They also attempted to repair damage quickly.  Well, it did seem to work.  Crime did drop due to this approach and other factors.

This approach to community building is based on a reversal of broken windows.   In this approach, a group of neighbors bands together to clean up the neighborhood and keep it spotless (instead of the city and the police enforcing it from the top down).  Here’s a video of a neighborhood went from a dangerous no go zone (militia violence) into a clean, functional neighborhood.


Contagious Thrift

The second approach is a repair cafe.  Essentially, it’s a way to help people in the community save money through repairs to simple appliances they would otherwise throw away.  Why would they throw them away?  Because the repair costs would be more than the value of the item.  Also, due to the centralization of global manufacturing, almost all repairs on small products require shipping it back to the factory at great expense.

The solution?  A repair cafe that can quickly fix minor problems and get the product working again.  A cafe like that operates on the idea that thrift is contagious.  If people are getting things for free or low-cost, others will join in to avoid missing out.

At Amsterdam’s (an example that was recently featured in the New York Times although their story focused on different motivations), neighbors line up to have their appliances, from vacuum cleaners to toasters to lamps to clothing, fixed by community volunteers that like to fix things as a hobby.  Why?  Because they want to avoid spending money on a new product.

The repair cafe idea has become so popular in the Netherlands, it raised $525,000 in donations and has spread to 30 different locations.


Mutual Advancement

The benefits of both approaches is that they get people thinking about the community as something worth improving.

A community that provides you benefits in return for willing contributions.  A community of people who like you, are in it for the long-term.  So, why not move forward together?

IF you have other, better approaches to community building, please share them.


Your still learning about how best to build community analyst,



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