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The GOOD Guide to Volunteering: The Civilian

To make urban living even better, many organizations work to generally make the bustling metropolis into an idyllic destination.



Urban living has always been viewed as a tough, though exciting, existence. It's fast-paced, hard, crowded, noisy and often polluted. But most city dwellers choose their chaotic life, and there are arguments to be made that urban residents have a smaller environmental footprint and a healthier lifestyle.

To make urban living even better, many grassroots organizations and motivated citizens have been working to improve city transportation, encourage cycling, plant more trees, and generally make the bustling metropolis into an idyllic destination. One such organization is the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, a small but powerful group that advocates for sustainable housing and development, better regional planning, economic improvements, environmental regulation and other issues that can make San Francisco a better place to live.

We talked to Sarah Karlinsky, the deputy director of SPUR:

GOOD: When someone comes to volunteer for SPUR, what would you say are the most important qualities they can bring with them?

Sarah Karlinsky: The most important qualities people can bring with them are: intellectual curiosity; a passion for cities and urban environments; the ability to communicate well, both in writing and in person; and a good sense of humor

GOOD: Can you describe the kinds of work a volunteer might do for you?

Karlinsky: SPUR is a very flat organization. As the Deputy Director, I am responsible for doing everything from drafting policy reports and meeting with city officials to ordering lunches for meetings. Volunteers at SPUR do the range of things that staff do, including everything from helping to arrange chairs for meetings, to planning major events, to contributing ideas in meetings, to recruiting new SPUR members, to helping to write content for the website and our monthly publication, the Urbanist.

GOOD: What do volunteers learn when working with SPUR that they might take and apply to life after their experience?

Karlinsky: I think that SPUR volunteers come away with a much greater understanding of how cities work, particularly the great city of San Francisco. Every day we have meetings and events with some of the top thinkers in urbanism and being part of that conversation is an amazing benefit of being involved with SPUR.

Other possibilities for City Dwellers:

  • \nSmart Growth America works to promote sustainable local business and employment by supporting and creation of self-sufficient urban communities.
  • \nReconnecting America works on improving urban transportation systems and advocates for transit-oriented development.
  • \nTransportation for America is a coalition of businesses and public health and environmental organizations working together to make transportation policy more conducive to economic opportunity, healthy communities, and a clean environment.
  • \nThe Center for Neighborhood Technology advocates for sustainable urban development at a community level, carrying out research and action to support sensible environmental, economic and development goals.
  • \nAmerica 2050 focuses on the idea that by 2050, there will be another 130 million people among the American population. With this in mind, the organization looks at planning and policy for the eventuality of metropolitan "megaregions" that connect multiple cities.

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