This is the second post by Kiel Johnson in a series about his effort to talk to his neighbors about the Lloyd to Woodlawn neighborhood greenway project.
This past week my wife Kate and I went door-to-door from NE 7th and Alberta to NE Thompson inviting people to an ice cream social to talk about the proposed Lloyd to Woodlawn Neighborhood Greenway. As I shared last week, the purpose of the event was to create a low-stress place for neighbors to meet each other and share their opinions about the proposal that would add diverters and create a new family-friendly bikeway between I-84 in the Lloyd to Dekum Street in Woodlawn.
For a 32-year-old, knocking on the doors of complete strangers is not the easiest thing to do.
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far is the value of putting a human face on a project who does not work for the city.”
My first year of college was the first year that Facebook expanded beyond Ivy League schools and was open to anyone with a .edu email. The promise was that you could sit in your dorm room and not talk to anyone but still be socially connected. The reality turned out to be a little different. Kate and I realized that in order to connect with our new neighbors along 7th Ave we would need to turn off our computers and step outside.
The nerves began fluttering as soon as the first invitations came out of the printer. The first knock was the hardest; but once we got started it was pretty easy and fun to meet our neighbors (especially when you’re not selling anything).
Our goal wasn’t to sell people on the merits of the greenway, we only wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity to have their say and know what was going on. Here are the ground rules we followed:
1. Knock on every door (unless there is a no solicitation sign, in which case just leave the flyer under the mat).
2. If we don’t hear anything or if no one answers in 10 seconds, just leave a flyer.
3. Introduce ourselves, but don’t give our opinions about the project unless asked. If we did share our opinion, we’d also share the other side.
We spent about 1-2 hours over three days (less time then I waste on the internet) knocking on doors. We tried to go from between 4-6:00 pm to maximize the chances that someone would be there and not be eating dinner. Out of 200 doors, 20% led to people talking with us.
Our script went something like this: “Hello, we’re Kiel and Kate and we live down the street. We’re inviting people to an ice cream social to talk about the proposed 7th Ave Greenway.” If they looked puzzled I’d ask if they’d heard of the project (most people had) and then I’d say that I don’t work for the city but if they had any questions I’d try to answer them.
100% of the people who gave me their opinion about the project — which was almost everyone I talked to — were in favor of it.
I met one neighbor who started a petition in support of the project and had already collected over 700 signatures. I chatted with another for a long time about local politics. One of my favorite lines was from one neighbor who said, “If we don’t get rid of these cars in 10-15 years they will get rid of us.”
The place I enjoyed visiting the most was the Margret Carter HUD subsidized apartment building. Kids were popping out of everywhere and the families I talked to all seemed to really enjoy living where they do and were the most appreciative that I stopped by. They also knew the least about the project. (If you have any ideas for how Kate and I, or the city, can better connect with people in apartments please leave them below in the comments.)
After three days of handing out flyers I really had no idea if anyone would show up to our ice cream social. If someone had knocked on my door inviting me to an ice cream social I probably wouldn’t go. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far is the value of putting a human face on a project who does not work for the city. In my next post I’ll share what happened at the ice cream social: Will anyone show up or will we run out of ice cream?
Stay tuned to find out.
— Kiel Johnson (@go_by_bike)
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