How I'm Empowering Everyday Citizens to Create the Communities They Desire

I strongly believe that every citizen can create the change they desire for their community.

The alarm goes off. My husband and I get our daughter ready for the school carpool, then make our own commute. Like many of our neighbors, it’s a short walk to a shop or office in the village, or (in our case) an even shorter walk to the office above our garage. After school, our daughter has the freedom to roam ample sidewalks and trails, visiting friends and exploring nature. While she is out, my husband and I prepare dinner using herbs and vegetables from our patio garden and local meats and dairy purchased at the neighborhood independent grocer. An after-dinner stroll with the dog, when the weather is nice, often leads to friendly visits with neighbors doing the same.

It may sound utopian, but it’s how my family lives. As an urban designer, I’m well aware that our healthy environment is awfully rare. I’m grateful for the many healthful benefits of our chosen lifestyle, and for the choices by those who planned our neighborhood to be a community supportive of the physical, social, and emotional health of its residents.

After moving to our neighborhood outside a small southern town named Beaufort, I felt a growing desire to become more personally invested in the health of my newly-adopted community. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so when a few neighbors began talking about starting a new school focusing on the healthy development of the whole child, I quickly threw myself into the cause. I had no background in educational start-ups, and neither did my fellow founders. We were all young parents with varied professional backgrounds who simply wanted more from the available public education options, and we were committed to giving the time and effort needed to create an alternative in our community.

In the process of creating this new charter school, I learned valuable lessons about community that stretched far beyond my previous experience as an urban designer.

  • Nothing connects fellow citizens faster than simply working together towards a shared goal.
  • There is immeasurable value in planning for the future of your initiative, even as you struggle to keep the momentum going in the present.
  • Community leadership can take many forms and come from surprising sources.
  • The healthiest communities are those where citizens are doing what they can with what they have and where they are.
  • It is difficult to create meaningful community change without the help of a supportive network.

Now in its fifth year of operation, the dream for Riverview Charter School has become a successful reality, and my own daughter is a happily thriving second grader there.

This is where you come in. I strongly believe that every citizen can create the change they desire for their community, whether that change is to start a school, open a community garden, create a bicycle co-op, or renovate a neighborhood park. I also know that it’s not an easy thing to do without technical support. That’s why I started The Civic Hub, a social capital incubation firm. We work with individuals, groups, organizations, and municipalities anywhere in the U.S. to help cultivate community change.

We are committed to helping everyday citizens in towns and neighborhoods, people living in places at a scale where the health of their community is accessible and the changes they can make will be meaningful.

There is plenty of data suggesting that an unhealthy environment can have a profoundly negative impact on our personal health, and as a result, health experts have begun to study preventions far beyond the prescription pad. Place-based health is a fast-growing area of policy interest, fueled by a rising awareness that environment may be the greatest factor in our national health crisis. Still, many people cannot simply or easily pick up and move to a healthier community. What is more, the factors that tie families to unhealthy environments frequently fall along demographic lines, disproportionately harming those with the least options available. Even in families with options, knowing where to begin and having the tools to do so can feel overwhelming.

At The Civic Hub, we want to help. We are launching a tutorial series on our website called “How?” Tell us what you would like to know how to do, and we’ll develop a tutorial that can help you and folks just like you create the healthy community you desire. Chances are if you are facing a know-how challenge, there are likely others out there that are as well. We want to hear about your lifestyle and how you would like to change it, for your family and for the benefit of your entire community. It starts simply with this question: What would you do for your community if you knew where to begin?

Drop us a note through our website; we’re excited to learn about the place you love.

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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