July 17th, 2024

Community co-operation needed to achieve a strong town

By Samantha Johnson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on November 30, 2023.

Norm Van Eeden Petersman, director of membership and development for Strong Towns, spoke to a small group Wednesday about mobilizing your community.--NEWS PHOTO SAMANTHA JOHNSON


Around 20 people showed up for the Community Action Lab workshop on Wednesday in the theatre of the Medicine Hat Public Library, where director of membership and development for Strong Towns Norm Van Eeden Petersman gave a presentation on mobilizing your community.

The central premise of the talk was that a strong town starts with the individual, who must be stubborn, impatient, realistic, draw on their strengths and be somewhat scrappy, although without being a jerk.

The ladder of engagement was discussed with Petersman suggesting to move back up the ladder if your efforts aren’t meeting with success.

The ladder of engagement starts with neighbours, then to the block, the neighbourhood, the city, region and then the province/country. The idea is to start small, or create a bottom-up revolution, and then work your way up the ladder, with lone wolves being discouraged.

To support small business, the key is to advocate for building more livable neighbourhoods filled with people who walk and bike rather than only drive.

Six features of a successful local group are to have multiple leaders, connect to a broader network, do things together, focus deliberately on an issue, celebrate successes together and be valuable as a generous partner for local officials.

Also recommended is to expand your team, make connections, start a local conversation group, do things together and deliberate communicate.

To mobilize and influence public officials, the advice is to start small, such as sharing an article, being helpful when needed, introducing yourself and others, and asking questions with interest. Over time, civic learning opportunities, such as walking tours, forums and debates can be held.

The final piece of advice is to love your place and it will love you back.

For more information about becoming a strong town, Petersman urged attendees to look at the Medicine Hat course by visiting strongtowns.org/medicine-hat or the Strong Towns 101 course at academy.strongtowns.org.

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