Shareables levels up

So it’s been a long time since I’ve written about Shareable Neighbourhood, and it’s grown a lot over the last year. As you might know, it’s the little volunteer-run community group I started back in 2012 to get people sharing knowledge about local history, nature, and culture in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona/Mill Creek area. When it started, we were leading backyard garden tours, foraging walks through Mill Creek Ravine, hosting local filmmaker showcases, that kind of thing. But the plan has always been to “level up” everyone participating, by taking on projects together.

I’d say we’ve definitely achieved that this summer.

Some of the hard-working Shareable Neighbourhood volunteers
Some of the hard-working Shareable Neighbourhood volunteers working on our summer greening project

With the support of the City of Edmonton and the Rotary Club of Edmonton Whyte Avenue, we came up with a Greening Project to get rain barrels and composters out to more people in the neighbourhood, for very cheap ($20). We created workshops on composting and rain barrel basics for the participants since most of them were newbies, and got tools they could borrow to install everything themselves. In exchange, they’ll be sharing what they learned on one of our public tours, and putting up signs announcing that they’ve become a Mulch Master or a Water Warrior.

It’s been tremendous fun so far. Putting together a grant proposal, making distribution maps, finding suppliers, and getting reimbursement cheques hasn’t exactly been riveting. But seeing the look on people’s faces when they finally get their big honking new composter is so satisfying. Today Finn and I led the first rain barrel workshop, and it felt so good to live the Shareable Neighbourhood spirit of being a proud non-expert, and still sharing what we know and helping other people feel more confident installing one themselves.

Next month, we’ll be doing the public tours, and then at the end of the summer we’ll host the last part of our project: building a living wall together in the Roots on Whyte community building together with Axis Mundi. We’d love for you to take part. It’s such an honour to be in the company of a group of volunteers and community members who care so passionately about this place, and want to make it better.

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Streetcars, Satan, and other successes

This has been a bit of an action-packed week, so I just wanted to reflect on some recent successes and thank the people who’ve contributed to them.

First is that thanks to you guys, we reached our fundraising goal on indiegogo to send An Evening With Satan on tour! On behalf of everyone at Punctuate! Theatre, thank you to everyone who chipped in. For a new, small theatre company, $1000 is a great boon to our performers, and will definitely make life easier this week as they bring the show to the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Second, last weekend’s Shareable Neighbourhood walk on Streetcars had far and away the best turnout so far. It was really inspiring to see so many people with such zeal for learning more about Old Strathcona, especially on a chilly Saturday morning. This time it was led by Earl Grotzki, a local history buff who’s been volunteering with the Edmonton Radial Railway Society for about a decade. You can check out the pictures on the Facebook group.

One of the Shareable Neighbourhood walkers takes a picture of me taking a picture of him on the streetcar
We had some comedians in the crowd for the streetcar ride with last weekend’s Shareable Neighbourhood.

Did you know that when the North Saskatchewan River flooded in 1915, they put a train on the Low Level Bridge to keep it from being torn away by the current? I do now.

Third, Terra Informa has just been picked up on a new station in BC: Kootenay Co-op Radio on CJLY 93.5 FM in Nelson. Sure, it’s just one more slot on one community radio station, but I take it as a big vote of confidence for the show. Not only is Kootenay Co-op Radio the station that produced the highly listenable Deconstructing Dinner, Terra Informa has gone through some dramatic transitions lately.

Relentlessly positive long-time producer Steve Andersen left this summer, as did a bevy of other great interviewers, so Kathryn Lennon, Matt Hirji and I have stepped in to take on some of his work in cultivating new voices for the show. Every week, I go back and listen to stories from the old team to understand how they made thoughtful, engaging radio out of everything from garbage sorting to the worst coal plants in the world. It’s a testament to the hard work of the new contributors like Annie Banks, Morgana Folkmann and Hamdi Assawi that a station like Kootenay Co-op has added us to their lineup.

Last but not least, I’ve been scooped up as the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s new communications officer. I’ve been a fan of ACGC for many years (and were a fan of mine earlier this year with the Top 30 Under 30 profile). Starting at the office today, I was even more excited to see that they take international development and cooperation as seriously and critically as Trent University does.

So from a rich new intellectual environment to the efforts of my colleagues being recognized, this has been a pretty good week. Thanks to everyone who’s made these things possible.

Our Shareable Neighbourhood

We were looking for a horseshoe.
Some of the folks out at last weekend’s Backyard Gardens walk.

I’ve had some time on my hands this summer to brew a couple new projects, and I think one of them is ready to open up a bit to the world. It’s called Shareable Neighbourhood.

Well, it wasn’t always called Shareable Neighbourhood. Technically this is the first time that’s ever happened. Initially I just called it Neighbourhood Walk, and between the two names you kind of get the idea: monthly tours of our neighbourhood in Old Strathcona/Mill Creek, to let people share what they know about local history and nature.

It was an idea born out of Next Up, the leadership program I finished this year. I’d been trying to dream up ways to get people jazzed about the nitty-gritty of where we live. Partly because I’m intensely curious about how and why things got to be the way they are, and partly because I think when you know more about what’s in your soil and who’s lived on it, you’re more likely to stand up for it. And partly I hoped that if we were all learning and sharing this stuff together more often, we’d feel like we had a more natural community of people to turn to when we need help getting a group solar panel discount, or bringing people out to a city council meeting — you get the idea.

The twist is that while we’ve had three so far and it’s ready to be murmured about online, it’s also young and needs fresh minds. I’m really trying to encourage folks in the neighbourhood to feel confident leading their own walks, even if they don’t have a degree or letters behind their name to qualify them in the idea. That’s why last weekend’s theme was Backyard Gardens: six of us who aren’t professional horticulturalists got to show off what we know about making tomatoes and delphiniums look good. So I want to decentralize the planning behind this as soon as possible, and we also need theme ideas.

So if you’re reading this, and you live in and/or know a lot about Edmonton’s Old Strathcona and Mill Creekish areas, drop me a line. If you have a tour you’d like to lead, great! We’ve done Plants of the River Valley and History of Immigration to Edmonton so far, and I think this month we’re going to investigate the local railways. And if you’d like to get involved in organizing, I’d love to hear from you too. Shareable Neighbourhood also has a Facebook group if you want to join. It might need to become a likeable page at some point.

By the way, this project owes a lot to the Jane’s Walks. They’re these annual walks all around the world that work exactly this way. Locals lead walks around topics like how an industrial heart became an urban park. I didn’t even realize how inspired I was by Tim McCaskell’s tour of Toronto’s gay village until someone pointed it out to me.

Also the name change was inspired by the great podcast 99% Invisible, which has much the same mission to explore the unseen story behind everyday parts of our lives. They tell beauteous stories about everything from how a picture gets on a stamp, to why US currency is so ugly, to how a Walt Whitman poem became wrought in an iron fence in Brooklyn. Just listening to the host, Roman Mars, this week made me more pumped about getting people to show off these unseen stories right beneath the surface of where we live. I highly recommend you check it out.