Later this month, the city of Walla Walla will roll out its new Neighborhood Engagement Program. But before everything gets underway, I think it is important to step back and ask a simple question: Why should we want to build stronger neighborhoods in the first place?
Whether big or small, urban or rural, neighborhoods are the building blocks of any healthy community. The relationships we share with the people who live around us can make the difference between a household dream and a noisy nightmare.
Neighbors are the ones who will keep an eye on the street and watch to make sure the kids stay safe. They can be the best first responders in times of crisis, or simply a friendly face to wave to after a long day. Good or bad, it is undeniable that the relationships we have with our neighbors matter.
In cities and towns across the country, many people are coming to recognize this fact. Stronger relationships within a neighborhood have been shown to improve everything from disaster preparedness to mental health and even life expectancy. The idea is simple: When people are part of a strong neighborhood, they lead safer, healthier and happier lives.
In Walla Walla, many neighbors have already come together to create this kind of community. They have paved back-alleys, set up neighborhood garage sales, installed wheelchair ramps for residents in need and formed community-watch programs. Community members around North Main Street have even led neighborhood tree-planting events and alley cleanups. Meanwhile, residents on University Street host an annual block party potluck that has become a well-loved tradition.
As important as a strong neighborhood is, however, it can be hard to build from scratch. Whether you’re moving into a new neighborhood or just haven’t had the time to build these connections, it’s difficult to know where to start.
The city of Walla Walla is launching its Neighborhood Engagement Program to make it easier for neighbors to come together and address the issues they themselves have identified. We aim to meet people where they are. For individuals who want to host their own block party, establish a neighborhood walking group or simply get to know the people who live around them, this initiative will lend a hand.
Depending on what is needed, the program could help engage neighbors in key community issues, provide funding for small neighborhood improvement projects and offer resources to pursue more specific undertakings, such as neighborhood newsletters or traffic-calming programs.
Oftentimes, building a stronger neighborhood can be as simple as getting to know your neighbors’ names. It’s always a great place to start, and this program is intended to make doing so as easy as possible.
On Oct. 24, the city will host its first “Neighborhood Summit,” to celebrate the launch of this new program. The event will be a public opportunity to learn more about the initiative and for attendees to discuss projects that could be beneficial in their own neighborhood. It will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pioneer Park Garden Center. Child care and Spanish interpretation services will be provided, as well as light food and refreshments.
Following this event, the city will choose three to five neighborhoods to participate as pilot partners while the program gets up and running. This pilot period is intended to engage an initial group of neighborhoods in projects relating to health and safety, civic engagement, community building, physical neighborhood development or other issues they have identified. After the pilot has concluded in April 2020, the program will be evaluated and gradually expanded to the rest of Walla Walla.
This program is ultimately about creating stronger, safer and more connected neighborhoods so every resident of Walla Walla can feel at home where they live. To realize this goal, we need your help.
If you have a project you are passionate about addressing in your neighborhood, if you want to establish a neighborhood natural disaster response plan or if you simply want to find a way to bring your community closer together, let us know! Send us your ideas and help make Walla Walla the community you want it to be.
Cameron Conner is the Neighborhood Engagement coordinator at the city of Walla Walla. He also led the Walla Walla Neighborhood Engagement Committee over the course of the summer to develop this project and propose it to the City Council. In addition to his work for the city, Conner is a full-time student at Whitman College, where he is finishing up his senior year as a double major in rhetoric studies and politics.