It could start with something simple, like connecting people in a Calgary community. In no time, this snowballs into the beautification of the park, a community garden or more.
At its core, it’s asset-based community development, or ABCD, as it’s often called.
At Tuesday’s executive committee meeting at Calgary City Hall, a notice of motion to explore the ABCD approach in Calgary was forwarded to a full council meeting where it will need to be approved. The motion was brought by Ward Council 12. Evan Spencer.
Great. But what is asset-based community development?
It is a philosophy of community development established in 1988 by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann at Northwestern University’s Center for Urban Affairs. It was founded on the basic principle that communities should be built based on their strengths rather than their needs.
The belief is that if you focus on small wins in a community rather than the negatives, a stronger social fabric is formed.
“It represents, in large part, just kind of a change in the way service delivery is done,” Spencer told LiveWire Calgary.
“In many ways, it decenters an institutional approach that focuses on the creation of goods and services, and centers the people those goods and services are meant to help.”
Spencer said it takes a city to change its way of thinking to identify, encourage and partner with community assets. It is instead of looking at it from a simple model of delivery of goods and services.
Community building itself is about asset mapping and list building, Spencer said.
“It’s just about better understanding what gifts, what talents, what resources, what experiences people can bring to a given situation, problem or opportunity,” he said.
ABCD – The Essentials -2 by Darren Krause
Empower citizens to solve some of their own neighborhood problems: Coun. spencer
Currently, the city is working on a reporting-based system to address community issues: Calgary 311.
He said the system could foster resentment and frustration with the city if complaints pile up or issues aren’t resolved in a timely manner. ABCD modifies this model.
“The city would work to empower and ask neighborhood citizens to not only report issues, but to get involved in solving some of their own local issues,” Spencer said.
“We’re partnering with them to do that.”
It could be about building community ties to bring people together. ABCD can go much further than that.
Many communities have “assets” in place to clear snow from city streets, but this is not permitted. Communities have expressed their interest in maintaining boulevards, beautifying parks or participating in the construction of the urban canopy. It can be met with city support but is often stuck in bureaucracy.
Leslie Evans, executive director of the Federation of Calgary Communities, said when she inherited the Block Watch program in 2009, she used an asset-based approach to help communities identify the problems they wanted to solve. .
“We’ve had many, many different projects that have actually revitalized parks and made places safer,” Evans said.
They helped start the Community Development Learning Initiative (CDLI), which began as an asset-based operation. She said volunteers or staff work to cultivate the assets of Calgary communities.
“It’s not about doing things for the community, it’s about empowering them to take control of the organization using their existing assets, their employees, the things of their community,” Evans said.
“Like a park that could be run down is always a plus. He just needs to be picked up, for example.
He’s been here, we just call him: Coun. Penner
From an rink adoption program to community playground builds, that kind of work is already underway, the Ward 11 Coun said. Kourtney Penner. Prior to her first term on the board, Penner was president of the Haysboro Community Association. She has seen much of it first hand.
The type of community action — whether it’s vegetable gardens or picking up dog poop — isn’t necessarily called asset-based community development, she said.
“We have a lot. We just didn’t name it for what it is,” Penner said.
“I think part of what we’re doing here is naming the work. We refer to it as a tool to be leveraged in communities.
Spencer, when he was part of the Copperfield – Mahogany Community Association, got a provincial grant to lead the Abundant Communities initiative for a year. The City of Edmonton’s service – Abundant Community Edmonton – is based on the ABCD model.
Dozens of neighborhoods are part of this program, according to the City of Edmonton website.
He has already put it into action as an advisor as well. Earlier this year, Spencer and her Ward 12 office organized a foxtail barley pick-up around the Mahogany Stormwater Pond. City staff were there to facilitate (i.e. help pick and then dispose of the plants), but the community was mobilized to do the heavy lifting.
Evans said they also tried to establish an asset-based model for safe communities a few years ago. At that time, she said she couldn’t get much interest from the city, even if they saw success using the model.
“I think our city is very much about risk management,” Evans said.
“We have a lot of assets, our communities have, and so I think we spend a lot of time in the areas of compliance, as opposed to trying to advance approaches that really engage people and get them to solve The problems.”
“Take Back What We Can”: Spencer
Com. Penner said it’s a great place for the city to show strength as a unifier. The first step is to recognize it, and then to be the centerpiece of all knowledge shared between communities.
“Hopefully that will kind of be part of the goal and the outcome so that we don’t necessarily feel isolated in our neighborhoods and across the city,” she said.
“We learn from each other and are equipped with the language to share it.”
Evans said it doesn’t have to be extensive asset mapping to get started. Just start with the connections, she said. A simple example she brought up was a Whats App community group. Neighbors might post about kids meeting in the park or a family’s need for a Friday night babysitter.
She also recalled a group of southwest Calgary residents cleaning green spaces near a train station. They created a biodegradable mural on the side of a building with people’s faces so there were always eyes of the community on the park.
Its large-scale implementation is also possible. Like the Abundant Community Edmonton model.
“It takes commitment. It takes funding and it takes people committing to it to really get something like this off the ground,” Evans said.
Spencer understands that there are obstacles to this model. Many of them relate to liability. Others are work-oriented. As Evans mentioned, so is funding.
He said it blew his mind though that the city would activate a park or weed a shrub bed and put fresh mulch. City employees can be involved, it just goes to mobilization rather than action, Spencer said.
“I feel like there’s an awful lot to explore,” he said.
“My hope would just be to take back what we can.”