Some neighborhood associations muster around particular issues, like cleaning up Superfund sites, food security, housing, education or over-policing. Others handle more general community concerns, like development and beautification. Mutual aid and community emergency response are also frequently built into neighborhood associations. Whatever the issue, this work has been done somewhere before; devising a neighborhood association is, in part, a matter of shaping an existing blueprint (for example, the organizing guide published by the Citizens Committee) to your needs.
Establish modes of communication.
When considering how members of your neighborhood association will stay in touch, itâ€™s helpful to look to networks that already exist. Communication lines that have been built up in response to the pandemic â€” Slack hubs or WhatsApp threads offering mutual aid, for example â€” likely have robust presences. Bed-Stuy Strong, a mutual aid group founded in March with upward of 3,500 members, recently published tips for creating a neighborhood-wide Slack (search for â€œHow To Make A Slack Neighborhood Hub During COVID-19â€). â€œWhen I pictured a WhatsApp group with a few thousand people on it, it just seemed so unbearably noisy. Peopleâ€™s needs might get lost,â€ said Sarah Thankam Mathews, the groupâ€™s organizer. Slack is easy to use and allows members to organize separate channels around specific issues or locations. â€œBed-Stuy is a really big neighborhood; itâ€™s allowed for a little bit of segmentation,â€ Ms. Mathews said.
But some members of your network might not have access to or be fluent in email or text; for that reason, having multiple methods of keeping in touch, and enacting a plan for who will keep everyone in the loop and how, can be helpful. â€œHow do you reach the elderly and the homebound?â€ said Healy Chait, one of the organizers of the mutual aid group Invisible Hands. â€œItâ€™s important not to forget youâ€™re dealing with real people on the other end.â€
Solicit additional feedback from your community.
Now that youâ€™ve whittled down your agenda to a few shared priorities, itâ€™s time to take it back out to the community to solicit additional feedback, which ensures peopleâ€™s concerns are addressed and keeps the process transparent. While social distancing is in place, this can take the form of flyers and emails, or even safely going door-to-door. And, as recommended by the Idaho-based nonprofit PocatelloWorks, you might also consider how your neighborhood association fits into its wider region or into a network of other neighborhood associations. In Bed-Stuy, for example, the Bed-Stuy Works Alliance is a coalition of block associations throughout the neighborhood; in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the nonprofit Resilient Red Hook works with other organizations in the community to advocate for emergency and climate change preparedness.
After amassing contact information for the lower half of his road, Mr. Kahn-Harris consolidated his WhatsApp group with that of the upper half of the road, making a street-wide chat. Then, someone else set up a WhatsApp group with representatives from each of a cluster of such street groups. â€œIt built up pretty organically,â€ he said.
Make a plan for how youâ€™ll accomplish goals, and dole out roles accordingly.
The Citizens Committee has recommended â€œas little structure as possible â€” just enough to get the work doneâ€; too much deliberating about structure can detract from actually accomplishing anything. Whatever it looks like, be deliberate about your leadership structure instead of allowing people to simply fall into roles. Otherwise, Mr. Ullah explained, the neighborhood association risks unintentionally replicating external power structures it intends to avoid.