Opinion: Tapping the energy

Chilliwack city council is making it easier to tap the energy and ideas in local neighbourhoods

Ripples from a presentation made in Chilliwack four months ago are still being felt in the community today.

Enthusiasm was evident at the time from the city councillors who had attended the evening. Guest speaker was Seattle activist Jim Diers. And his message of community empowerment and neighbourhood engagement clearly hit a chord.

Next week city council will vote on funding that would allow the hiring of a community co-ordinator.

But don’t think it of spending, Diers would say. Think of it as investing.

Diers has made a career working with individuals and community groups to reclaim and reinvigorate neighbourhoods. The goal is to harness the enthusiasm and ingenuity already present in the people who live there, and channel that energy toward specific, achievable goals.

Governments have a roll to play in this process, Diers said, but only a minor one. The real power comes from the neighbourhood.

Too often that power lies untapped, needing only a nudge to get things moving.

One concept is the Neighbourhood Matching Fund. Since its inception in 1989, the initiative has helped mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers to complete more than 5,000 community projects, Diers said.

Projects included the conversion of a closed-off city street into a community garden, the transformation of an abandoned building into a youth centre, and the creation of a neighbourhood park.

The process is simple: Governments agree to provide some funding for a community initiative, provided their is demonstrable evidence of volunteer hours groups are willing to commit.

The result, said Diers, are projects with broad-based support that come at a fraction of the cost.

Chilliwack is hoping to tap some of that energy. It’s hoping that the new community co-ordinator will help bring out the ideas, and encourage the enthusiasm already bubbling in neighbourhoods, on Facebook pages and around kitchen tables.

It will be fun to watch what happens.

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