10 Ways to Make Your City a Better Place Now
Washington D.C.: Volunteer your time
Volunteer: (noun) a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or engage in a task.
No matter the undertaking, freely giving of your time in service of someone else is one of the most effective ways to bring together and bond with your community. It could be as simple as watching your neighbors’ kids/pets/garden gnome while they go back to school, or as large as organizing a citywide food and clothing drive during the holidays. Whatever is within your comfort zone and means, give—it all counts. The D.C. area certainly has plenty of options.
Los Angeles, CA: Host a documentary screening and then create a follow up action group
Simultaneously become more informed about the world around you, solidify a community of like-minded people, and partner with an organization to take action. (Not to mention, impress your friends with your newfound knowledge of the latest buzzworthy documentary at your next socially-conscious cocktail party.) It’s easier than ever to host a screening of a film focusing on your cause of choice through companies like Gathr Films based in Los Angeles, but the key is not to stop there. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the need and shut down. So, before the screening or before you leave the theater, take the time to organize and mobilize to take that extra step. Research the issue behind the film further, and partner with an organization doing good in your area of the world.
London, England: Embrace guerilla gardening
Speaking of getting involved in local government, sometimes you have to take matters into your own garden-gloved hands. Champion London gardeners certainly have. While the rush of planting flowers in an abandoned lot seems fairly tame, it’s not technically condoned by the authorities, if you’re feeling a little rebellious. If not, here are some ways to stay on the right side of the law, strictly speaking: Look into the zoning in your city—you may find small spaces in public places where you can legally plant flowers or functional herbs and veggies, find places between the sidewalk and the street (private property) and get the owner on board with your beautification plan. And check out this article on the proper way to guerilla garden, a handy guide for anyone.
Bridgeport, CT: Read to your kids
Before you get too ambitious about going out and saving the world, remember the corner of the world that you inhabit. If you have kids, read to them—instill themes of compassion and words of community in them at a young age. If you don’t have kids, find some and read to them—maybe check out Annabelle Howard’s Reading Without Borders program based in Bridgeport, CT. According to the National Education Association, only 53 percent of children are read to on a daily basis, the benefits of which could prove instrumental in shaping their futures. Don’t forget about the littlest ones; they’re going to grow up and make the rules one day.
San Francisco, CA: Mobilize your office to bike/carpool to work
According to The Rideshare Company, the average car puts out about 10,000 pounds of CO2 emissions every year. So, it’s safe to say that even one carpool can make a measurable difference. Now, imagine the impact of an entire office biking or ridesharing to work for many years. Google’s San Francisco office started the trend back in 2008. And, in your office, it could start with you! It might be as simple as plotting the routes and making the schedule to get everyone on board. In addition, you’ll encourage bonding time with coworkers, save money on gas, and get to drive in the fast lane—win, win, win.
Stockholm, Sweden: Recycle aggressively
Time for a wake-up call: If you leave any food remnants in your recyclable containers, your whole recycling bin full of environmentally-friendly materials will end up in a landfill. Know your local requirements, double check/empty out/rinse/etc. before you toss in the bin, and get ready for the satisfaction (and maybe competitive edge) you’ll get by kicking your recycling game up a notch. Feeling extra ambitious? If your community doesn’t have a regular recycling pick up, offer to drive a weekly route around your block and take the recyclables to the nearest recycling plant—or you could just move to Sweden.
Park City, UT: Get informed and active in your local government
Local issues may not seem as gripping as global crises and presidential elections, but questions of public safety and parks and recreation can affect us all on a daily basis. The farther down the political chain you go, however, the smaller the voter turnout. Currently, less than two percent of the population votes on these issues. Thus, the turnout doesn’t reflect the population demographics, and that may ultimately lead to inaccurate representation in local government. So, get informed, and get involved—the beauty of local issues is that their scope allows you to see real change as a direct result of action, and what could be more satisfying? Just ask the people of Park City.
Manila, Philippines: Consume consciously
You have the power. Personally, you may feel very strongly about workers rights and, as a consumer, you have the power to mirror your beliefs with your everyday purchases. You’d be in good company: 79 percent of people in Manila will pay more for socially-responsible and environmentally-friendly products. Research the companies that treat their workers well and support them through your purchases. You’ll leave the store feeling good about what you bought, and perhaps even inspired to get others on board with your civically-savvy shopping.
Cairo, Egypt: Utilize social media
Speaking of getting people on board, it’s now incredibly easy to share your views with a massive network. Just think about your personal six degrees of separation (aka, everyone) connected on this grand internet contraption. We’re changing the very definition of civic engagement in this golden age of social media. Find an article that perfectly expresses your view on women’s rights in today’s society? Share it and help educate those who remain entrenched in certain antiquated beliefs. See a blurb about how to grow your own drought-tolerant plants? Retweet it, and then get to gardening. While many are cynical that this abundant sharing of relevant and important media has no tangible effect, studies are beginning to show that this new kind of activism, can, in fact, have real impact. On a grand scale, remember that social media rocked Egyptian politics beginning in a Cairo city square.
New York, NY: If you see something, say something
Beginning with the literal interpretation of these words from the MTA in New York City, the larger concept here may be simple, but is often anything but easy. We are wired to believe that others are responsible and aware of what’s going on, so sometime we think we can just leave things in their hands. But when we all think that way, nothing gets done. So, perhaps the most effective way to engage with your community and inspire others to do the same is to speak up when you see injustice or unfairness, or, on a more positive note, actions worthy of praise. Your voice has the power to stop crime or encourage someone working tirelessly and feeling invisible. Say something!
So, you did your civic duty and voted in this month’s elections like the GOOD global citizen that you are. Now you can sit back, relax, and let the incumbents do their thing, right? Not so fast! There’s so much more within your power that you can do for your community, your city, your state, and your country. So, in this season of Thanksgiving, let’s come together to make a difference wherever we are, wherever we can. Check out 10 down-and-dirty ways you can help change the world that anyone can get behind—no matter your political persuasion.
The GOOD Cities Project is a five-month collaboration with Ford, exploring how we make our cities and how our cities make us. As part of the project, GOOD and Ford have commissioned cultural creatives across the country to help illuminate and celebrate the rich and vastly diverse points of view that make up each city's individual character. Each week, we will be exploring attributes that we believe are fundamental to living meaningful urban lives.