There is a growing movement called, “Little Free Libraries.” It is a simple idea, really. The intention is to set up a small decorated box in your front yard, fill it with books, and use it to freely lend or give away books to anyone passing by. Communities where these little book exchanges are getting traction are discovering that neighbours are becoming friends and people are connecting. I came across one in Calgary and was delighted to peek through the box for a treasure.
Little Free Libraries are not the only ways people have connected with their neighbours. Block parties, geocaching, lemonade stands, produce exchange booths, community gardens, neighbourhood art projects, and front porch music festivals (it exists!) are just some of the creative ways that people are connecting with the people in their city. I recently read about one home owner who decided to turn his front yard into a tea garden for his neighbours. He plants all kinds of herbs and flowers, labels the plants with signs, offers tea recipes, and welcomes anyone who passes by to harvest whatever they may find to make themselves a pot of tea. It is a remarkable posture of kindness, presence, and care for the people in his neighbourhood.
While most people celebrate these acts of neighbourliness, some do not. There are municipalities where rules or tradition have taken the wind out of creative projects. One community in Louisiana has cracked down on little free libraries, saying that they should be regulated by the local library board and are outside of the permit structure. One Canadian municipality charges their citizens upwards of $2000 to close a residential street for a block party. In Ottawa a kids lemonade stand was shut down because it did not have the right permits, and in another community bylaw officers were called on a bunch of laughing families having a water fight in a park on a hot day.
In a world aching for connection and battling against isolation or loneliness, it is amazing to discover the hurdles that some communities have created. When we find ways to deregulate neighbourliness and the quirky ideas that emerge in unique communities across our city, we build a memorable place to live.
Here in Chestermere I celebrate the pro-active work of our city to remove red tape for community events or neighbourly gatherings. On September 11th neighbours in Chestermere are hosting the second annual Chestermere Soap Box Car Derby on Rainbow Falls Link for dozens of kids and their families. I love how excited they are for this event, how the community has come together, and how cooperative and encouraging the city has been. It is the right direction.
At our very core we can be the city that says ‘yes’ to creativity, connectivity, and engagement. As we take risks on small things that bring people together, we will build our capacity to take on bigger challenges and grow as a uniquely vibrant, and especially neighbourly, city.
Now, if only we could do something creative with the unused space below Chestermere’s famous power lines…