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Ask HN: As a person, what can I do to improve a city?
479 points by davidn20 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 332 comments
I live in a "Top 10 most dangerous cities in the U.S." What can I do to help? It seems like the most common solution for people who are educated and well off is to move. To get out of the situation, which is understandable. However, this causes a brain drain and leave the city in a worse place.

I don't want to do that, I want to uplift if I can. What is the micro thing I can do today, that can have a chance of a macro change tomorrow?




The single best thing you can do is pick a neighborhood - not the whole city - and invest deeply.

Get to know everyone in the neighborhood and understand what they want and need, then try to find ways to bring that.

When you have a strong network of neighbors and a little bit of cash, you can ramp up investment by cleaning up dirty corners and getting the basic services that a neighborhood is missing.

Here’s an example of how folks in Memphis, TN did this Over time: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/5/21/this-is-what-w...

If you’re interested in connecting with people who already have this mindset, there are a lot of them in Strong Towns, and there may even be a group in your area.


> When you have a strong network of neighbors and a little bit of cash, you can ramp up investment by cleaning up dirty corners and getting the basic services that a neighborhood is missing.

I don't think you need a network to begin cleaning up dirty corners.

Just pick up garbage you see on the street when you walk around. It has an immediate impact, is easy and doesn't cost anything. Other people may see it and may begin doing that as well. I'm surprised more people don't do.

If you want, you can make a facebook group telling people you're going to be picking up garbage at a certain time, if anyone would like to join.

Garbage on the street has a very negative externality as people are less mindful of tossing garbage if there is already garbage on the street. It also strips people of dignity about where they live and can have other negative side-effects to the neighborhood or even promote lawlessness.


This is a fair point, but FWIW I worded this the way I did because I think the network of neighbors is ultimately more important than the physical work, and should have top priority.

But you’re right that you can start by picking up trash, and in fact that can be a good mechanism to meet the neighbors and build the network, depending on how you approach it.


I recently passed day 1,300 of picking up at least one piece of trash per day. It's not my only civic contribution, but it's deeply rewarding. I've also switched from jogging to plogging.

Some results:

It's gotten me on TV a couple times.

It's led to working with my city councilman, whose team recently started organizing group pickups.

Someone considering a Senate run contacted me for advice on sustainability.

I'm working with a few corporations to organize nationwide pickup events -- mainly fitness places you'd probably know the names of.

As a regular in my local park, the drug dealers there have become friendly with me, leading to long conversations about life.

I'm friends with entrepreneurs in the field.

People often thank me and we talk.

It reinforces my diet. I avoid packaged food, which I find increasingly disgusting, largely for what the packaging does to the world and the entitlement, willful ignorance, and salt/sugar/fat/convenience addiction does to our culture.

Most of all, I feel connected to my community.

On the downside, my view of human nature can get dark when I consider how much people pollute.


Along similar lines, our open source React Native app at Code for Boston for iOS and Android is in beta testing from the last several years of work: https://github.com/codeforboston/plogalong – if there is interest I think there is some sort of UDID-oriented URL they can send you to load on your phone. Accepting new contributors on Tuesday nights ET.


Glad to see the project but not sure how I would use it. I'm friends with the founder of Litterati, but even that app is too much trouble for me to use. I don't bring a phone when I plog.

Still, I value tracking since it's fun and I think would motivate people. If my experience or practice can help, I'd be happy to.


Any anecdotes from the drug dealer conversations you wouldn't mind sharing? They must have a bit of a unique take on things.


No meaningful anecdotes since we mostly just talk.

Typical topics:

- They ask why I do it

- They tell me how the others are at the ends of their ropes but that I couldn't understand that situation without being there

- They call me good a lot.

- They tell me how others litter but never themselves.

- They tell me I should use gloves (I don't because I'm avoiding creating more trash)

- They tell me how the people who are supposed to clean don't clean that well

- Of course, they ask if I want to buy drugs or at least buy them dinner from a food truck

None of them ask me about my life, my values, etc. No meaningful connections. Just chit-chat. We'll see if things evolve.


I've been doing this, one trash bag full a week.



I think maybe you're paying attention to the wrong part of that story. It's not the act of putting out the Buddha statue; it's the continuous care that a community of people put around the Buddha. The neighbor that plonked down the statue just contributed a statue. The community of Buddhists who adopted it, brought flowers, cleaned and improved the area are all doing exactly what the grandparent comment described.


The "success" of this was contingent upon there being a Vietnamese community in the neighborhood that took care of the statue and the space around it. To be clear, using another culture's religious icon to keep trash from piling up on your street is exceedingly disrespectful.


It's ineffective and woo, but come on. Disrespectful?

Can we get over this hyper-upper-class take on everything for lower class problems? When it gets vandalized, that's disrespectful, I guess, but putting it there is merely stupid.


No, using religious icons to facilitate waste management is disrespectful, full stop.


Thank you for this link.


Sure but the network is the thing which gives you leverage to do more than what you can do by yourself.


The network is best when you start by setting an example and then spread is. "Look, as part of my daily exercise I pick up a bit of trash every day. I'm in better health and look how much better my neighborhood is" This speaks more than someone needs to do something so I'm putting together a group to form a committee. Lead by example.


Yes, although I was thinking more along the lines of we should be neighbourly to each other hand have a good relationship where we say hi and watch out for each other. Giving people bureaucracy won't work. A number of the neighbourhoods where I live have block parties once a year so that people know there neighbours. And once you know your neighbours you can start talking about mutual problems and then things you might be able to do to fix it.


True that picking up trash is a direct action that doesn't take many resources. (reminds me to go sweep the alley after hitting reply).

Cleaning up the trash on a block might be the most direct first action that anyone can take.

I think the poster was also using this as a metaphor.


I think the network is less of a means and more of an ends. When people have relationships in their community, they have access to support (e.g. someone to make sure their home isn't broken into while they're away or financial support in an emergency) - that's way more important for a city than clean sidewalks.


> doesn't cost anything

It costs time.


I think it's important to know the people who's corner you're trying to clean, lest you been perceived in a way you didn't intend. I'm not saying you should ask permission, per se, but some people find it offensive when outsiders come in and try to fix problems without context.


I mean this in the most objective way possible.

The risk with urban improvement is making the area more desirable eventually prices people out of the community. So, the real question is do you help the land or current residents? When you own property it’s seriously worth considering local improvements for several reasons, but it’s also easy to confuse the two. Further, if most people in the community own property then there is a lot of overlap.

To be clear both are worthwhile, just be cognizant of what your goals are. Anyway, if you want to help people I suggest either the young as changing the trajectory of someone’s life is easier early on, or the elderly because social inclusion scales well with individual effort.


I think your concern is valid but unfounded. This is fortunate - otherwise the way to help the poor would be to vandalize their neighborhoods, which is a strange conclusion.

It's true that increasing quality of a neighborhood will increase its housing price. This will have disparate impact: (1) it will help people who enjoy higher quality, but (2) it will hurt people who would prefer low quality and lower price. However, I think it's important to remember that the stock of people and housing are mostly fixed. If you raise the quality of one neighborhood so that more people bid to move in, then at the same time there must be other unobserved neighborhoods where prices fall. Therefore there is also a third effect of making a neighborhood nicer: (3) it can lower prices in other neighborhoods.

One way I like to visualize it is as a supply curve - if you move some neighborhoods up in the desirability ranking, then by conservation of rank, others necessarily fall in rank.

The argument I sketched above isn't a proof, obviously. There are edge cases where higher quality induces more people to own multiple homes or to live with fewer roommates, and nuances where heterogeneous preference for locations may make it harder on someone who needs to commute to their job and really would be better served by a cheap neighborhood, but for the most part I think it's reasonable that making neighborhoods nice is an overall positive good for the world.


I mostly agree with you, but:

In a market with a population growing faster than the supply of housing it is possible for there to be no place where values fall, and in fact for people who can no longer afford an improved neighborhood to end up homeless as a result.

This is why housing supply is absolutely critical, and as a society we should be working hard to ensure we always have supply in level with (or erring toward slightly exceeding) demand.

However, we have a cultural myth that the home is a persons primary investment and wealth accumulation vehicle. That Mrs. very harmful because it creates enormous incentives to do the opposite: restrict supply as a way to ensure that the people who already have a home are guaranteed a good return on their “investment.”

It’s true that home is a very large asset and that appreciation can benefit the individuals who live there, there’s nothing wrong with that at the individual level. However when we choose to have house appreciation as a significant goal at the societal level, it directly competes with the desire to end homelessness and see everyone housed.

If ensuring that everyone could afford at least adequate shelter was a primary goal for society, we would need to make choices that sometimes worked against, or at least did not help, home appreciation.


It’s likely a net positive for the world, but a net negative for the people displaced. That’s why gentrification is a dirty word in many communities. However, like most things it’s complex.

One often overlooked benefit is the knock on effects of gentrification are real improvements in local school systems. Looking across decades you often see gay communities which care less about local school systems acting as a catalyst by increasing local revenue while reducing the demands placed on local schools. The improvement in local schools precedes people’s awareness that the schools have improved. Similarly, many people can leverage the improvements in the local economy to keep up with the transition.

That said, relatively few people can keep up with significant changes and those people are simply worse off having lost an affordable community which they had social or economic ties to. A restaurant for example is generally different to relocate. A local handyman may have a steady stream of existing customers, which don’t follow them etc.


Whether it's a net negative for people who get displaced probably depends on their capital gains from the increased property values, no? Not everyone loves their neighborhood, especially if they aren't in great condition.


It’s assumed these people are renting. Homeowners only really face property taxes which take extreme shifts to become unaffordable. Even then owners can generally remove equity to pay them for years to decades.


In simple terms, improving a neighborhood increases the supply of good quality neighbourhoods and therefore reduces the price of good quality neighbourhoods (given that the demand is more or less constant).


It also decreases the supply of bad neighborhoods. Given that demand is more or less constant, this increases the cost. If the price gap is sufficiently large between the two, prices go up during gentrification and the poor have to move to more expensive bad neighborhoods


If you're only concerned about the average quality of housing your argument makes perfect sense, but if I understand you correctly you're casually brushing over people (your neighbors) being forced out of their homes.


> (2) it will hurt people who would prefer low quality and lower price.

Uh... poverty isn't a preference. Sure, at the margins people can choose to spend the money they have on different things, but you're positing an equivalence here between things that aren't remotely equal. It's not like suburban professionals simply choose to spend their money on expensive housing and infrastructure where their inner city compatriots have different priorities. Poor neighborhoods are poor because the people there HAVE LESS MONEY.

You fix that by fixing the inequity, not imagining a fantasy resident who decides to put all her money into bitcoin or whatever.


To be fair, I know at least a handful of people who are not in poverty but seem to prefer low quality / low price options to those that are more expensive.


I would assume that the preference is not for low quality, but low price. That is, if better quality housing was available for the same price, I don't see why one wouldn't choose that option. But it is certainly true that some prefer to spend less of their budget on housing.


This comes up a lot in progressive urbanist circles. My favorite example was something Matthew Yglesias mentioned once on the Weeds about how some progressives opposed planting trees in D.C. because trees raise property values.

I think this is a total non-starter. Trees are good, not bad. Good things are good, not bad.

It is good to do good things. If doing good things reveals something bad, then we should work on fixing that bad thing, not on avoiding the good things that uncovered the bad thing.

We want a politics where poor people can live in neighborhoods with trees, not a politics that says trees are bad because they make neighborhoods too desirable.


Also in a very objective way, I don't understand this reasoning. I've never brought up the question before and hoping that HN can explain it in a logical way that I might understand.

Let's say that a neighborhood is rated 3 out of 10 - not very good. There is a mix of people that live in this neighborhood. Some people own property and some do not.

Then the community makes the neighborhood better and it rises to a 7 out of 10 ranking. The people in the community that own houses costs are fixed and they now recognize the improvement.

The part of the community that don't own eventually see their costs rise. At some point they can't afford to a community that ranks 7, might only be able to afford a community that ranks 3 and would need to move to a community with that ranking.

It seems like part of the original set that owns experiences a large and lasting benefit. Another part of the original set experiences a short term benefit, then a transaction cost (moving) and reverts back to the mean.

Can someone explain what this description misses and where the harm comes from?


This is a fair point except that neighborhoods are not fungible and are in short supply.

You’re assuming that there is another 3/10 neighborhood available for the people who are displaced to move to, and therefore they gain a short term benefit and eventually end up back where they were.

In practice it’s typical that older areas which have become run down have ample city services, such as transit, parks, and libraries, which may not be the best quality, but at least exist.

Since neighborhoods are no longer built with these amenities, the best available substitute for someone who is displaced from an old neighborhood may be far less desirable than what they had before - a 1/10 trailer park, or worse, homelessness.

However, if we would continue to build traditional neighborhoods that were walkable, had city services, had transit etc. and built enough of those to keep up with the demand, then it would be much more likely that your scenario would play out. In that case the harm of economic change in neighborhoods would be greatly reduced, perhaps even to the point that it wouldn’t be a problem anymore

But that’s quite far from the reality on the ground today.


Transit comes with density and growth and usually increases in property values. When an area goes downhill but still has this services it creates a temporary situation that people can take advantage of certain aspects - live with increase crime but get increased services.

The wealth of yesterday created that situation. At some point someone will invest in that older area because of the location value.

The only way to artifically control that is through low rent units. Which create other barriers because one can never leave or they give up something even though it might make sense to move somewhere else for family or job reasons. When they always take 1/3 of gross getting a raise and taking on more responsibility seems counter-productive. Hard to break dependence.


moving is not just a reversion to the mean. A neighborhood is more than atomized individuals who live there. There can be a community of people which form a network and a support system that is many years old. Pricing certain people out can rip apart these communities, so it's not just a matter of relocating then continuing as you were.

Then there are the individual-level logistical problems. What does moving do to your commute? Is it easy to find a new job? Will your kids have to go to a different school district?


> people owning houses

This is the part you're overlooking. People in undesirable communities are renting because they don't have that generational wealth built up

Even if people aren't renting, once the desirability goes up, developers are going to want to kick you out, and will use the government to do it.


Your model is mostly useful and shared with the people with the 'harm' view. To reach the conclusion that the 'harm' group are reaching, set your move transaction cost¹ to a large value and add a local-relationships parameter that depends on time-spent-at-current-location and weight it very highly as well.

Should you so desire, you may want to add in a cost to capture the notion of how a person moving contributed to the improvement. This will usually need to be inflated above the true economic contribution (IKEA effect, etc.).

The local-relationships parameter may be effectively quadratic (since a person moving diminishes their relationships and relationships are two-sided).

¹ It is clear you know this but for other readers that may not, that's not just the monetary cost.


> Can someone explain what this description misses and where the harm comes from?

If they have lived somewhere a long time, one of the big losses is: Relationships.

For the people forced to move, they will not find another "3 out of 10" neighbourhood, as part of what makes it a 3 is that's where all their friends and long-lasting relationships and perhaps childhood memories are. That already makes anywhere else < 3.

They will have to move somewhere where they likely don't know anyone, or at least not the well-established friendships they had before.

If they have extended family in the area, they will have to leave those too. (Parents, children, aunts & uncles, siblings, that sort of thing).

Those friendships and relationships aren't just valuable for sentimental reasons. They form an essential practical support structure, and sometimes a financial support structure. For many people those things are a big part of what makes quality of life.

And they might be forced to move at an age where it's difficult to make new friends, especially deep friendships.

As people on the lower end of the socio-economic ladder, it's likely that they were benefitting from their friendship/relationship network in another, subtler way: By having good quality relationships with people higher up the ladder, their own circumstances are effectively lifted up as well.

For example, they might be taken out to places and introduced to opportunities and people because of long-lasting friendships with people richer than themselves. Their children get to play with children of richer friends with nicer houses to stay over in. Little things that probably translate to differences of opportunity when the children are older. That kind of uplift goes away when they move to another location.

Some people have a good relationship with a local employer too, and will lose that as well. It might be something quite treasured (even though it presumably doesn't pay well), and difficult or impossible to replace. Remember we're talking about people forced to leave, not those who want to leave.


The community also depends on the people living in it - a diversity of the types, and incomes, of people benefits the neighborhood. People churning in and out is harmful -- I'd argue more harmful than the increased property value accounts for.

I don't have a good solution for this. Rent control helps a bit, but has bad externalities. Property ownership helps a lot but any measure to drive up ownership immediately prices out lots of people because it's captured very well by the housing market.


Too logical. Here's what non-owners might see:

"The neighborhood is improving, things will get more expensive". Bad.

"I have to move now." Bad. "This new neighborhood is worse than my old one." Only half true (they started at 3 and ended at 3), but perceived as bad.


or instead of dismissing people's grievances as illogical, you can skip the strawman phase and engage with the real issues as I and others have described here


The post I replied to logically argued that people are not harmed when their community improves and they are priced out and forced to move. (Note, I never claimed they were illogical, but instead that they were "too logical" Pure logic will not explain why people feel the way they do, because people are not always logical).

They then ask:

> Can someone explain what this description misses and where the harm comes from?

In answer, maybe no harm is actually done. But even so, people will perceive that they have been harmed. And in the larger context of this thread, that is why people are sometimes unhappy with their community being improved, because they believe it will price them out and harm them.


> In answer, maybe no harm is actually done. But even so, people will perceive that they have been harmed.

Maybe cows can fly. Maybe a lot of things. But it does cause harm. So your idea about people's perceptions seems condescending


> but perceived as bad

There is no good or bad except in terms of someone's perceptions.


>Can someone explain what this description misses and where the harm comes from?

Empathy. Sense of place is real. Home isn't just your house or property values. People deserve not to be priced out of their homes so the sake of profit.


Honestly, I wouldn't worry too much about it when starting a project.

That's like worrying the infrastructure won't scale when you barely have enough users to keep the one server you rent busy.


By being cognizant of these effects, you can probably accomplish both at once. Improve your community with an eye towards projects that empower the residents -- even if they were to move away. Things like financial education/mentoring or around-the-house handyman type skills sharing.


This is the gentrification problem. Make the community more desirable, and you make it increasingly more expensive for the existing residents. It's hard to balance these things.

In the case of Minneapolis, the city committed to a plan (Minneapolis2040) to increase housing density. And a lot of that new apartment/condo construction (mostly on unused or old industrial land) is necessarily out of financial reach for average residents. But the increased supply helps protect the prices for the existing houses and older apartments, whether privately owned or rentals.

It's not perfect, it's arguably not even good, but it's a tradeoff most Minneapolis residents can live with.


Now you know why people support rent control despite it being repeatedly shown to have negative economic impact.


If it is more desirable, then you build more housing, it should be as simple as that. If you build enough housing, rents won't rise.


To build more housing, you have to destroy the old housing. This still displaces people, and likely pushes them into smaller apartments where they would have been in a house


What studies show is that poor people move around a lot, whether there's "gentrification" near them or not, for what I think are pretty obvious reasons, and that they aren't any more likely to leave "gentrifying" neighborhoods than they are neighborhoods that aren't gentrifying.

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/8/1/untangling-gent...


No, you can let people decide whether they want to move out. Many of them would elect to then sell their houses to developers who would build apartments. Many would choose on their own to add units to their own property. If some people don't like living next to apartments, then they are out of luck though. I don't know if we should expect people to have that kind of say over what their neighbors do with their property.


There were 2 replies that I want to summarize together: empowering the current residents as part of the renewal, and rent control.

I think as part of the urban improvement is to work with the renters and landlords to let the renters capture some of the rising value, either through some sort of equity rent-to-own, or creative financing that lets the renters find other housing within the neighborhood. Maybe some sort of buy-out conversion from private landlords to private-benefit-corporation landlord (as opposed to public housing).

The alternative is localized rent control, that makes sure that the landlords don't capture the rising value of the neighborhood that is being added by the residents and their work. You also need some limits on redevelopment, so the landlord doesn't just replace the building with something more upscale and manage to replace the tenants as part of that. Maybe allow refurbishing and some new units in exchange for current residents getting rent control.


for a year I lived in a city on a nice block that was near some not so nice blocks. One thing we had that the other blocks did not, was an old lady with a bunch of brooms that knocked on everyones door once a month and made us all sweep. It really made a difference.


Every community needs a tough old biddy like that.

There's a reason that the single word I know in the most languages is "Grandmother".

If yours doesn't have that, then... be the Bubbie your Bubbie would insist is needed or something to that effect


This is so great. Old ladies that will not be argued with should never be underestimated.


I second this.

I spent 3-4 hours per day sitting on a park-bench in NYC reading, playing guitar, and writing between Jan-June of this year (and before you ask, I work a 9am to 5am). If you keep a friendly disposition and are welcoming by saying hello when people take notice of you, they will open up quickly – I must note with full sincerity and severity that this assumes you listen and ask thoughtful questions; people are quick to sense when someone is not genuinely and empathetically interested in them.

I've made friends with musicians (and had some great impromptu jam sessions), homeless people, CEOs, software engineers, mentally ill, folks addicted to hard drugs, guys formerly homeless, people who were in prison for a decade and trying to get by and reconnect with their kids, students, tourists, professionals, hourly-workers, and everyone in-between.

Now if you live in an area with a low-density of foot traffic this will not work and I do not have first-hand advice besides, perhaps, move to a more densely populated area. That you asked this question speaks to what you're looking for in this life.


This personally saved my house during the recent CA wildfires. We have community events where we cut down brush behind the community. The fires burned up to the area where we stopped cutting the brush and it allowed for enough buffer to basically have the firefighters suppress it!


I agree! We tend to think of things on a grand scale beacuse that's what we see in the media but the truth is there is more visible impact on a local level as you can impact day to day much better.

Great site and thanks for sharing!


This is great advice but wanted to emphasize if you’re looking to make a huge impact with pretty much no money just grab some trash bags and pick a block in need.

Trash in the street is one of the biggest problems you’ll see in neglected low income neighborhoods and it just feels so much different when the street gets cleaned up.


I want to second that and add: grab a few tools and do some basic landscaping. Remove weeds and cut grass that is growing over curbs and sidewalks. Make it look tidy again.


Thanks for linking that article, I'm not sure if you're native to the area but there have been a lot of good changes in a city that needs them. It feels more community oriented than investment/cash driven from some other cities I've seen but that may be the lens I choose to put on it.


Great advice.

I would complement saying that you should look for charities in or around your neighbourhood instead of giving to charities that doesn't affect the place you live directly (but if you super rich, do both).


If you do all that, it would make a lot of sense to then run for mayor or at least some local government position.


You should listen to the NYT podcast “Nice White Parents”.

Neighbourhood improvement with good intentions can cause systemic problems in a community

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/23/podcasts/nice-white-paren...


Can you summarise? Listening for five hours of chit-chat seems to be excessive to.find out about what might be an anecdote that is not generalisable.


The takeaways (for me) were that: 1) a small number of high-status parents with different priorities than the broader community will often (without malice) influence a school's administration such that the community's more fundamental priorities get lost, 2) political action to enable racial integration of public schools has been a symbolic goal in NYC for generations, but there's been a repeated lack of follow-through due to ... lack of courage and commitment.


Hi there from Detroit. I'm a relatively recent transplant but my partner has been here for quite a while. Here's what I've learned from her:

- Getting involved in local politics. There are many opportunities to attend public meetings and many accessible public programs that most folks don't know about — even something as simple as requesting a speed bump to be installed on a neighborhood street with speeding problems or requesting a pickup of illegally dumped trash can make a real difference.

- Supporting local businesses, co-ops, urban farms, and folks building the future you'd like to see. Volunteering at local community organizations is a wonderful way to meet folks on the ground doing real and necessary work.

- Creating friendly dialogues with your neighbors and those around you. There's occasional violent crime around us, but the neighborhood watches out for one another. Our neighbors selflessly help each other in ways I could never imagine in SF or NYC.

- Investing in the community when and how you can. My partner bought and renovated an abandoned house in a less desirable neighborhood and has created a great small community of optimistic tenants and friends. There is a lot of unused and available land in the neighborhood and we're actively working on ways to reimagine it — for farming plots, new housing, community spaces and more.

None of these are as hard as they sound, and the impact from small actions is huge compared to wealthier areas.


"community organizer" is not a bad word. It means that you should walk into your local YMCA, public library, boys and girls club, food pantry, homeless shelter, religious center, etc. of your choosing, find someone who looks like they're too busy and thus must be in charge, and say "Hi, I'm Bob. I have Mondays free for the foreseeable future. What do you need?"

Then, pay attention, show up every Monday promptly on time, and see where you wind up.


If you join a volunteering group, you should decide after a couple meetings if it's worth staying with that group or finding another. It's not just whether you agree with their mission but also their social dynamics.

There's no "best setup" here; it's whatever you'd enjoy most. It's hard to help people if you're unhappy doing it. You may prefer a "show up, help, leave" deal, or something more like a social club that meets over drinks to plan events and chat about life. So don't feel discouraged if your first group doesn't feel right.


I want to emphasize how important this point is.

With work—stuff that you're paid to do—everyone on the team has some shared incentives that can help foster alignment and consensus. Everyone wants stuff to get done because you and your team are in 100% agreement about wanting those paychecks to keep coming. Even with that, there is often drama and office politics.

With community organization, hobbies, etc. everyone is in it for the instrinsic rewards, and those vary widely among people. Some will be in it to meet new friends, others like seeing a neighborhood visibly look better. Some like the sense of power, others the sense of belonging.

It is really easy to end up in a group whose personalities and goals are too different to work together effectively, through no real fault of any individual. Like any relationship, you may have to try a few before something gels.


As a public policy and budget wonk, advocate, lobbyist, and five-year veteran of city government (Washington, DC), as well as a social worker by training, I LOVE the question and am stoked 1) by the responses and 2) by the number of responses.

I am a firm believer in doing something. As others have said, get informed, get connected, and then get and stay active. This can be personal stuff or political stuff. It all needs doing. Play to your strengths.

And I would document even if it's just for you. What you did and why you did it. What worked, what didn't. It's good to have a contemporaneous written record.


This advice is so vague. Are there frameworks or best practices? What resources could help? Or is it purely incremental and case-by-case?


Not the reaction I expected, but a valid one!

Here goes:

There are best practices on the organizational side. I'd have to do some research to determine nonprofit and civic organizational adoption. My gut is that at least in the US, best practices adoption for volunteer engagement/management is not widespread. In my own experience, very few of the organizations I've worked with or know even kinda well have the capacity (and/or interest) in implementing best practices. And I would assume that informal neighborhood groups are not adopting them.

From the perspective of an individual, there are resources for identifying volunteer opportunities, though this various by jurisdiction. Some places have active and robust volunteer referral systems while others have lots of active civic groups (think Jaycees, Junior League) that are central to life in that place. Other places have nonprofits and people volunteer there.

What resources could help? Good question. I think that depends on what 1) people want and 2) organizations want.

In my experience, many people who volunteer approach their voluntarism as "take what I give you." Meaning, "I will give what I give, when I decide to give it, how I decide to give it and I'll do it the way I see fit." In some cases, this might work for an organization. I've seen it be accepted by organizations because the organization does not have time (more likely has not made time) to develop a volunteer program with job descriptions, intake, and every other important element needed. If an organization were to develop a volunteer program, a bunch of resources are needed including staff.

Back to my original comments for a sec. Getting involved is kind of like the wild wild west. Jump in an do something, there's little organization or governance, particularly on the street-level stuff of trash pick-up, etc.

Here's an example: When I worked for then-Mayor Vince Gray, there was one winter that was colder than usual. VCG wanted more than the helping the homeless during hypothermia season status quo. So leadership and staff got together to develop the city's cold emergency plan. Basically, anyone without shelter was encouraged to get on a bus or go into a non-shelter on the coldest nights. We fed people, gave them stuff (dry clothing, etc.) and caseworkers were available to help if people wanted.

At something like 2a on one of the first days of this plan, I was doing a site visit to a bus. (Did the staff need food, water, etc.) It was dark out, save for the bright street lights that made the snow-covered everything sparkle. All of a sudden, there's singing and laughter. A small group of 20-somethings came in happy as could be carrying cups of hot chocolate, boxes of donuts, hot pretzels, and more. They handed the food out, chatted for a few, and then took off for the next bus. This merry band of do-gooders made me smile. They made many on the bus smile. They came out in the wicked cold to make sure that people who were homeless had warm food and drink. All I know about them is that they lived around Georgetown and were in professional programs.

Stepping up, doing something can be something as simple as this.


Sometimes encouragement and positivity help too, not every answer has to have specifics and detailed plans :)


I really liked this. I struggle with the same question as OP so very interested.

What do you think stops people from doing something? Is it lack of information? Learned helplessness? What would help most in that moment when we think "I need to do something"?


All of what you wrote, unfortunately. But this problem can be solved.

If you believe in helping people, I believe you should model voluntarism for your kids, nieces, nephews, older relatives, neighbors, etc. You don't have to do in a way that says aren't I great I volunteer. It can be something like sharing starting with holidays and then expanding to non-holidays. Perhaps encourage a smaller holiday fete at work and direct the resources to something like gifts for a shelter, Toys for Tots, shoe box gifts for homeless shelters, etc. My grandkids, for example, learn about helping others at Christmas buy picking out a toy and donating it to Toys for Tots. This is a super important life lesson and it's reinstilled frequently.

Or, there's the volleyball team. I was new in a job and pulled together a volleyball team to play in a tournament sponsored by an org I volunteered for. We had t-shirts and folks raised money. And it was fun! The team members and board members bonded in an important way on something that was bigger than us and our "issue." While the tournament sponsor did not get more volunteers out of our team, they appreciated that I was more committed and that they got new donors.

There are so many things that prevent people from volunteering/giving/helping. Very often, people will help, they just need to be asked or encouraged. People don't know where to look for ways to participate in some civic something. https://longevity.stanford.edu/three-reasons-why-people-dont... provides details I can't.

Interested individuals should still volunteer/help/do something even if others don't.


Starting with holidays is a fantastic idea. One of the obstacles for me personally is finding time. I'm usually so overwhelmed with work/kids/family stuff, every spare moment seems both inadequate and too precious (e.g. catch up on sleep).

On holidays, though...i'm usually more free.


Keep in mind the holidays are highly sought after days to volunteer. Get in early if you want to put in time at a soup kitchen, etc., particularly on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

If you are holiday shopping with the kids, you might be able to add on a little shoe box shopping. The items can be picked up at a drug store, Target, Walmart, etc. The kids can help you pick out and pack up. Then drop it off at a local shelter, church, whichever kind of group is collecting.

Have a great time! And don't stress. Find something that works for you. You're much more likely to do it again :-)


Good to know. Thanks a ton for the ideas. I really hate how helpless i feel about the world sometimes, any push in the direction of action is a good one.


Would you mind linking to the list you’re referring to?

My off-the-cuff thought was, “join Transportation Alternatives and push for more bike lanes, public transit, etc.”, as I see automobiles as one of the most significant dangers to both urban areas and even the planet. But when I google "ten most dangerous cities," they seem to list places whose danger is more poverty-driven.


Automobiles (and their drivers) kill, maim, or injure significantly fewer people than intentionally aggressive individuals in major cities. For example, in 2017 there were 343 murders in Baltimore [0] (which I knew would be on the list before looking for one) vs. 38 fatalities due to car accidents [1].

Here's an example of a list: https://www.statista.com/statistics/217685/most-dangerous-ci...

These lists are based on crime rates, which to my point above, are driven by more immediate threats to life than indirect ones like the contribution of car exhaust to global warming.

[0] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/baltimore-homicide-murder-rate-...

[1] http://www.city-data.com/accidents/acc-Baltimore-Maryland.ht...


That's highly misleading. Overall cars kill way more people than murderers (at least double) in America. Baltimore just happens to be at the top of the list for murders per capita and apparently slightly below average for auto fatalities. For most cities there is a greater chance of dying from a car crash than from being murdered.


It's not misleading for major cities that I'm aware of, and especially not so for the "most dangerous" ones that the parent brought up.

It doesn't "just happen" that I picked Baltimore, it's highly relevant to the topic the parent posted raised, even if you'd like to redirect the discussion elsewhere and it doesn't represent the US as a whole.


In addition to the effects of car pollution on health, education, etc., car infrastructure is also a big driver of segregation in cities, which leads to a lot of the social problems that engender violence. So shifting infrastructure away from cars is really relevant.


> So shifting infrastructure away from cars is really relevant.

Sorry, it's really not. No one murders another person because of policies that don't provide enough to support to public transportation.


A lot of freeways got built right in the middle of poor neighborhoods. I'm not saying there is a direct causal link with that and murders, but it's pretty hard to ignore the socio-economic effects of those massive infrastructure projects.


That's fair, but the person above seemed to be taking it to a logical extreme.


I think we generally underestimate the importance of social mixing in our society. Groups are less likely to see other groups as enemies if they're neighbors and take the same train to work every day. Poor people are less likely to feel excluded from society if they have friends from the middle class than if their whole neighborhood is on welfare.

Walkable neighborhoods with good infrastructure where a mixture of all strata of society live are, in my opinion, quite important if you want to prevent problems. Carcentric city planning is directly opposed to that.


Walkability isn't the issue in major cities, nor is proximity to other classes of people. In Baltimore (to stick with my original example), your likelihood of being a crime victim varies block to block, with one block being safe and the next being an open air drug market. That's not unusual for major cities in the US.


OP did say "top 10 most dangerous cities in the US" and those studies usually don't count auto accidents.


The flip side though it that your risk of being murdered is actually something you have a lot of control over. Cities with high murder rates typically have subgroups with extremely high rates of violence. So depending on your personal life and living situation automobiles could be the larger threat.


I think the point was that a street full of car traffic is much less liveable than a street full of cyclists and pedestrians.

Cars are still dangerous and noisy which leads to a stressful atmosphere. Many hide in their cars as if they were tanks, afraid of connecting with anyone outside.

What's needed instead is people coming together to form a community.


However during this pandemic, proximity has become a liability to the community.


I think the point is that the parent poster doesn't understand what metrics are used to determine these "most dangerous cities" lists.

Stress caused by car noise is way, way down the lists of issues in major cities.


The density is worse during a pandemic. That's why people are fleeing the cities.


Those are just the direct costs. Cars also make a lot of air pollution, which is the #1 killer worldwide. Enabling/enforcing sedentary life, noise pollution, crowding out streets are other indirect but large costs.

Edit: you could add in the costs of minimum parking requirements, which crowd out housing and increase housing prices.


Okay, but that's not what these types of lists take into consideration, partially because these are problems that are endemic in all cities.


By comparison, there were 650 murders in the entire United Kingdom of 67 million people.

Something different needs to be tried. I would suggest looking at the Violence Reduction Unit: http://www.svru.co.uk/


People driving instead of walking or bicycling will be in poorer health, so you'd have to account for that as well, plus the consequences of air pollution, stress from noise, etc.


I'm not sure it's right to generalize the danger of murder to have equal chance for everyone, in the same way that it is for the danger of the car


I think you might be in a minority of people that hear "dangerous" and then think about transportation first. My guess would be most people think of danger as violent crimes. At the same time, people are aware of other types of accidental deaths, but may view those differently because they feel they have more control over them.


yeah, I mean, I'm definitely in the minority of what I think. My life is regularly threatened by reckless drivers, and being a strong, tall-ish white dude, I don't get messed with on the street very often.

That said, I think the numbers back up my perspective. Violent crime just isn't what it was back in the seventies, but we're still in the mindset that danger = criminals.


Transportation and crimes are related, if indirectly. In many major cities, it's hard to get a legit job if you don't have a car, because you can't get to work reliably. Folks who live in poverty and don't have access to legit work will do something to make money, and crimes ensue.

Bikes might not be a great solution in these areas -- they're easy to steal and somewhat unreliable due to weather and other factors. And, if somebody already feels that they're taking a risk hiring a poor person... is it going to help if they're showing up sweaty? Perceptions matter on both sides of the equation -- I won't apply for a job if I don't think that I'd last a week.

Rather than focus on the impact of cars, which is a bit of a "boil the ocean" solution, it would be directly impactful to fund a local restauranteur. It makes local jobs, and makes the neighborhood more livable and walkable.

If I had a billion dollars, I'd do an incubator for small, local businesses focused on sustainability, not disruption.


A few major urban areas with high cost of ownership and good alternative options aside, a car is a self-compounding step out of poverty to most poor people and their problem with them is one of cost.

To tell these people that cars are their problem is tone deaf at best. They have a million bigger problems.


Exactly. When you're an educated, middle class white person, it's easy to say "ditch the car! just get a place near transit. makes it easy to ride downtown to your office job".

What about the poor people who can't afford to live near transit? Or have jobs nowhere near transit? A car is often a requirement for them. And sure, maybe they can take a bus with a couple transfers, but then their commute goes from 45 mins to 90 mins.


Clearly, millions of middle-class Japanese people get by perfectly without a car.

Eastern Europe and Russia is not as rich, of course, but too could be example of huge territory with millions of people living whole their lives without car ownership.


But America isn't Japan or Eastern Europe.

Sure, redo all the public transit and then you can start asking people to ditch cars. But until then, you're handicapping them.


The op that started this didn't suggest people just ditch their cars. He suggested they try to improve their transportation infrastructure to make other modes of transport more of an option.


yeah, that's why I asked


Yep, those are the cities I'm referring too. I wanted to know what people can do to help poverty-stricken cities.


If you want to help some poor but able fellow, hire him / her to do some job, and pay reasonably well. Even a one-time job.

Acquring money is an obvious way to get out of poverty. But living on handouts kills morale.


In addition to the many great answers here: consider putting on performances, whether you organize them or perform. Make art, and leave it in unexpected places. Sell some homemade food outside your house once in a while. Add a little surprise and delight into people's lives. It's contagious. And everyone needs joy, entertainment, and even some good-weirdness in their lives; it's not just for those with disposable income and spare time.


Random anonymous acts of kindness (like paying for coffee for the person after you) can uplift a whole community. And it spreads faster these days with digital community groups (people saying thank you to strangers). In fact those messages could even be positive propaganda


Don't. Get out. Get powerful. There is a threshold effect. Unless you have a non-normative path to power (organized crime or powerful family or lots of money already), don't do it.

What you're doing is the equivalent of trying to get strong by pulling a 500 lb barbell every day without moving it. It is not effective. Go somewhere where you pull the 100 lbs first and get it off the ground. Then move up. One day you will be able to pull the 500 lbs. Then you can go back and move it.

In the most dangerous places, all the barbells are 500 lbs. You will not get strong. The barbell will not move. The barbell will never move.


Disagree. You're falling prey to savior complex, so instead you should "Get out and get powerful and come back to be a hero" Translation: Go make fuck you money and then change what you independently determine is important. You're wrong, because you'll have no idea what barbells to move when you come back, you'll just throw them around without purpose, like a meathead in a gym. Even so, not many people can move a 500lb barbell by themselves, but you get a few people around you you can trust, and 500lbs is pretty light. Much lighter if y'all can work together to break it down and take some weight off the bar before you move it, too. You go away and get powerful, make some fuck you money, sure, you can buy a few houses, or support a policy or something, be a savior. You can toss a few barbells around with ease. But if there's no buy in from others who trust and understand your motives, your effort will die. You might get your name in the record books for the barbells you threw, but there wont be lasting impact.


Just to clarify since I was unclear apparently, it isn't about returning to be a hero with no clear conception of what to do. It's all about having sufficient power to overcome inertial force so that things don't revert to what they were when you die. It doesn't have to be monetary.

The peer responses of doing this as part of a community are meaningful alternatives. I don't think that technique would work for me, but that technique may well work for others.


This seems very flawed.

For one, OP didn't provide context but it's plausible they grew up/spent a significant amount of time in this city already.

It seems pretty clear that the GP was suggesting an alternative path to gaining influence/money/power, and it's not at all a given that 'getting your name in the record books' 'won't have a lasting impact'.


I think building stronger ties with your neighbors is a great way to recruit people to help you move 500 lb barbells. You don't have to be able to lift them by yourself, and why would you want to? You'd just become a single point of failure.

Get to know your neighbors, organize with them, and do the work together to make your neighborhood better. Some reading never hurts, either. If you're in a city, I've found "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs to be really insightful.


What if most of your neighbors are cooking meth


In reality most of your neighbors are not cooking meth. They are normal people who want the best for themselves. They might not know how to make things better, but they too want it. (they might also disagree with you on what makes things better)


Then I suspect you don’t know your neighbors well enough yet.


Individual action can lead to collective action in any community. The trick is to distribute the weight of the barbell across a group with shared goals. There's great power in this type of organizing. Movement is certainly possible.


This starts from the premise that you have to do it alone. Cynicism and isolation make it impossible to change things, but if you get together with 5 neighbors I'm sure you'll be able to move the 500lbs. Start a co-op, or a neighborhood civic group and you won't have to go it alone.


In one of Obama's books he gives some detail about his 'community organizer' background. In short, if I recall right: he tried hard, he learned hard lessons, he failed.

And yet, when he ran for office, the people who knew him from this effort were his base.


Poor and dangerous cities usually suffer from a lack of institutional capital.

Historically the answer would be: go to church. More likely you’re not religious, so go to a similar regular event that places you in touch with your neighbors in the city. Join a committee or a choir or a volunteer group or arts group or the like that serves the community.

Do not join an organization dedicated solely to political advancement of its preferred party, at least not as a substitute for this. It is at serious risk of being more about power and less about helping, particularly in a bottom-ten city, and will be an inferior way to gain social capital and trust. If you do join one later you can use your connections to the community to make power more accountable to the community.


> Poor and dangerous cities usually suffer from a lack of institutional capital.

It's also worth noting that philanthropy has the biggest long-lasting positive impact when funds move into and through local centers of institutional capital.

Building the institutional capital is the hard part. No amount of money thrown at a problem will fix it in the long term without the local institutional capital, and a shared and transmittable wordview that keeps it alive across generations. Churches were indeed the historical local institution that endured across generations in the United States for many generations past, but those also fed into non-parochial committees that would tackle local projects.

I'm generalizing primarily from knowledge of the history of my own city. It's the most beautiful city for miles around. It had many churches in its early history (there's still a single block with 5 historic church buildings and a YWCA), and also had rich benefactors starting about 110 years ago who formed committees and built a lot of beautiful things here, including a beautiful Moorish architecture library, a series of beautiful parks, and a 2500-seat amphitheater which still hosts a free concert/show series every summer.


My own project (https://plantogether.city) hopes to help make cities better from an urban planning perspective by enabling two things:

1. Giving people a voice. People don't feel a sense of belonging because they a single individual amongst thousands/millions. Being able to discuss things directly on a map with other citizens is empowering.

2. Serving as a spatial knowledge base. Allows users to collaboratively catalog the best, worst, most interesting etc. parts and elements. For example all items tagged with cycling in Waterloo (https://plantogether.city/tag/cycling?area_id=3).

Having more organized information and discussions could go a long way in improving decision making.


I had an idea for a similar project last year. I thought it could perform a few functions:

1. Help compile a list of local issues

2. Empower people to help fix those issues (recognizing the different people can help out in different ways on the same issue)

3. Allow groups to highlight their contributions (e.g. local Libertarian party or Lions club or whoever can highlight X number of closed issues in 2020)

This direct action platform would certainly be susceptible to trolling and abuse but it also would directly provide the answers to the OP's question.

(One other hope would be that, if this caught on, maybe political campaigns could redirect some of their ad spend to helping fix these issues as that would allow them to say, "We did this".)


If you're interested in helping New York City, you can volunteer your technical skills to solve meaningful problems there! It won't be the latest whiz-bang 5G Blockchain AI tech stack, but you'll have a shot at making a real difference. As cities further adopt open source approaches to technology infrastructure, these improvements will also benefit other cities.

https://www.usdigitalresponse.org/nycx-innovation-fellows/

Please DM me on Twitter (in my HN profile) if you have questions. I can help to answer or find someone who can.


Second suggestion: be involved in local government. Go to the city council meetings, zoning and variance boards, etc. We all love to complain about the local government not having enough money, but lots of local governments end up wasting money on projects that nobody needs simply because they don't know the communities needs. They can do studies to try and figure it out, but it's a lot better if a significant portion of the community just shows up and tells them.

Yes, it's boring, and of course it can be hard if you have work and what not, but that's civic life for you and it can improve the situation drastically. If you don't want to go to every one, or have work on some days, etc. try to get a few neighbors together and just make sure you send a single representative from your neighborhood to every meeting.

EDIT: also, thank you for asking the question. It made me very happy to see someone thinking about this!


A simple one, that perhaps doesn't scale (unless you open multiple gyms) is to provide a boxing/MMA/BJJ gym with good coaches.

It's so cliche, but giving teens a physical outlet, where they can begin to understand that consistency leads to results, can sweat together, socialise and build comradery and true confidence will go a long way.

It's simple, and you might only be helping a few teens a year, but it's a good start. I've seen it transform some troubled kids (and grown ups) over the years (drug addicts, and extreme anti-social cases).


I've recently gotten interested in repairing technology. I bought the recommended tools from iFixit and I've been using them to fix up my wife's MBP Mid-2012 Unibody (one of the best laptops to fiddle with in my opinion).

Due to all of this I realized that I have just enough knowledge to help others with their computers - or at least I have the right tools. Once I'm more confident, I'm planning on starting a Repair Cafe[1] in my city.

Repair is daunting for a lot of people - but it doesn't have to be. I hope to use the Repair Cafe as a way to improve the longevity of people's technology (saving them money) as well as teaching people the skills and knowledge they need to fix things on their own.

With even more reliance on technology these days - especially due to COVID - repair is a great way to help struggling families save money.

[1]: https://repaircafe.org/en/


Strong Towns talks a lot about this: https://www.strongtowns.org/

They have a philosophy that centers on "small bets" (trying things that aren't disasters if they don't work) and economic rejuvenation.


I second the people who say "get to know a neighborhood" and add "learn about the cooperative business model and use it to solve the communities needs".

There's a big food desert in south Atlanta, but a group of neighbors who were sick of not being able to buy healthy foods got together and are opening a co-op grocery for example. If the grocery does well, it builds wealth for the neighborhood (since they're all co-owners), and they fill a need that the community had to boot without some big corporate grocery coming in and refusing to stock fresh vegetables because it's not a wealthy neighborhood and they think they'll sell more packaged goods or whatever the case may be.

In another part of the city, we're trying to start a co-operative ISP because the only options are AT&T and Spectrum, both of which are garbage in my opinion and screw their customers over at every turn. Others are building community gardens, or greenspaces, etc. and when these things are built they do more than just fix the individual need, they help foster ownership which makes people less likely to litter, or smash mailboxes, or whatever problems the neighborhood has.


Fight for just housing/zoning policies and against NIMBYism

Join orgs supporting the homeless and fighting against the criminalization of homelessness.

Buy from locally-owned businesses that treat their employees well. Not the gentrifying upscale cafes and restaurants and boutiques


> Fight for just housing/zoning policies and against NIMBYism

With you on that one. But this is a problem of successful, growing cities and it sounds like OP is in a city in the opposite situation that is lacking in economic opportunities.

> Join orgs supporting the homeless and fighting against the criminalization of homelessness.

When most people complain about homelessness, they're talking about the homeless on the streets, and particularly the ones on drugs who accost the people walking by. Criminalization of homelessness might be bad for moral reasons, but letting an unlimited number of homeless people live on streets indefinitely is exactly the opposite of what almost everybody wants. We need to focus on getting them off the streets into shelters and housing, and then everybody wins because they are also not being arrested anymore. Just focusing on the "criminalization" aspect and ignoring everything else is just making the problem worse in other ways.

> Buy from locally-owned businesses that treat their employees well. Not the gentrifying upscale cafes and restaurants and boutiques

This one is where you've really lost me.... who do you think provides good paying jobs and can afford to treat their employees well? Businesses that are making money, such as upscale cafes and restaurants and boutiques. These are also often locally-owned.


Where I live these upscale cafes and restaurants are owned by extremely wealthy restaurant ownership groups. Their attempts to seem local are little more than virtue signaling, and the money backing them has crushed whole city blocks of small local businesses in favor of their sterilized Instagram-aesthetic places where the food is 2x the price for half the flavor.


I have to concur.

In general, gentrification is the clearest path to improving neighborhoods that have probably suffered as a result of "NIMBYism" elsewhere in a city.

Being opposed to gentrification is a form of "NIMBYism". Gentrification is not the enemy of affordable housing.


Is the goal to improve the neighborhood or improve the lives of the people who live there via improving the neighborhood?

Gentrification kicks out whoever is already there. If they are dependent on local friends/family for support that makes their lives worse.


Gentrification kicks out the people who lived there and the local business there by jacking up rents. And this is not just a pure market dynamic - cities subsidize the developers that do these projects.

You won't care how "great" the new neighborhood is with its SoulCycle classes if you cannot afford to live there anymore.


I appreciate your prospective. I have to respectfully disagree though.

Building an apartment of affordable housing in an affluent community or building a condo of upscale units in a poor community clearly evokes feelings of NIMBY from some of the entrenched interests in both communities.

Some feel that helping 10 poor families find affordable housing in the affluent community does the greatest good. It certainly does for those families who can get the assistance to support their new lives. It does absolutely nothing though for the vast majority of the residents in their former underserved communities.

I personally feel that a greater good can result from 10 affluent families providing a cornerstone for the gentrification/improvement of an entire underserved community.

I believe we are both advocating for better services, increased safety, and affluence for historically under served communities. We just have a different perspective on how that might be done.


That stuff is nice, but in the context of OPs original request, how would any of that lower the rape rate in OPs city? Or the murder rate?


Improving the quality of life for a significant proportion of the population can have major effects on violent crime. A great example is Medellín, Columbia: see this reddit post[1] for a good summary.

[1]: https://np.reddit.com/r/neoliberal/comments/ib6eh2/a_tale_of... (I would turn off subreddit style for now)


My guess is that violence rates increase in areas without much economic opportunity (which also incentivizes illegal means of supporting oneself financially). If that’s the case, this seems like a sensible suggestion from the GP:

> Buy from locally-owned businesses that treat their employees well.

Similarly, is the rate of violence connected with the affordability / availability of decent housing?

If so, zoning / affordable housing initiatives as suggested by the GP may be relevant.


I think the idea is that people are less likely to rape and murder each other in a city that is well-run, where people know each other, and nobody is in a desperate situation where they feel they have nothing left to lose.

I think there are two big factors that drive people to crime: desperation and lack of accountability. Lack of accountability can also come from the anonymity that comes with different demographics not knowing each other. Desperation can come from poverty or extreme social inequality.


Spend time with your neighbors and local businesses. That goes a long way. Learn more about what works well in the city, and what doesn't. Consider serving in a volunteer capacity with various organizations like local neighborhood councils or schools. Most importantly, if you can devote time, money, or both to local schools, you will make the biggest impact there.

Have kids? Send your kids to the local public school. That is an enormous difference maker. Don't push for dumb things (e.g. Latin), but be an effective advocate for students whose parents might be unable to get involved, and contribute time and energy to improving resources across the board.


That school thing reminded me of the podcast series "nice white parents" :)


There are a lot of good suggestions here. I will add recognizing that living in a city is about sharing.

I have lived in San Francisco for over twelve years and the most important thing I learned or realized is that living in a city is about sharing. I have to share with the other folks here. Walking and driving are two obvious examples. But we also share an aural space. Certainly with my neighbors but more generally too. I share the backyard with my building neighbors. I share the city services. We share the air we breath as you notice instantly walking near someone smoking. Outside of my home there is very little I can do without interaction with others around me. This is true generally but in a densely populated space, like a city, you can't avoid it. It's just the way it is.

The requirement that we share doesn't mean that everyone does so gracefully or respectfully. Myself included. Nonetheless I propose this is a fundamental personal step that contributes to better cities.


Maybe not a popular opinion, but: Encourage your neighbors to call the police when things happen. Call them yourself, too.

I lived in a bad neighborhood for about 20 years, and have had family living in the "same" bad neighborhood (about 10 blocks away), and the difference in crime is night and day. The main difference from what I can tell, is that nobody on my street called the cops, ever. If I didn't call, the cops/fire department wouldn't show up.

For example, we had a mentally ill meth addict wandering the streets, breaking into vacant houses, vandalizing property, etc... One day, I find him starting a fire in some brush outside our house. My neighbor's way of dealing with this? Get out the hose and put the fire out. That's it.

I called the fire department, who alerted the authorities, who detained him.

Later that day while driving around, I saw half a dozen piles of ashes where he (I assume) had set fires before wandering off to start a new one. All within a 1-2 block radius.

I honestly think I was the only one who finally called the authorities on him, because everyone else in that neighborhood is so apathetic (or maybe so suspicious of the police) that they refuse to call 911.

He could have set a house on fire and killed a family. I'm speculating, but I imagine he wouldn't have even got the first fire started in a neighborhood that is vigilant and willing to call the cops.


I was kinda hoping this comment would spur some discussion (it was late though). My opinions in this regard aren't concrete. I guess it is kinda hard/pointless to argue against anecdotal evidence. If I were to rephrase everything in my post as a question, I guess it would be: "How would you deal with a mentally ill homeless man who breaks into vacant houses, sometimes sets them on fire, and starts building 'art' around the neighborhood that people view as vandalism?"

If that is too specific of a question, we live in different worlds. Which is fine. But OP'll probably live in a similar one soonish.

Another question I would ask, is who all is involved in this decision to move to an underprovided city? Is it just you, as the sole provider? As in, no family? How long are you willing to live there? People can, and do, live in these neighborhoods for decades at a time...

But: How willing/capable are the people you love of withstanding an attack? I don't mean an attack against you ideologically, I mean physically. Can you live the rest of your life in a normal way, after you've been told to lie down next to the vehicle being stolen, with the full knowledge that you are a point on that vehicle's path of escape? Knowing they could run you over in an instant, if they felt like it. Knowing that wasn't you that experienced that, but your daughter or son?

Are you still then okay with sacrificing your own interests, and your families, for the benefit of the city?

Edit: Agh, this just turned into more anecdotal stuff. Oh well, I guess don't have much else to add. Either way, good luck OP.


Pick up litter around your block. Smile and wave to neighbors. Become active in and or donate to community projects. Spread a general sense of kindness and support to others near you. These are the smallest and easiest things you can do that'll have an impact on people.


In addition to being a quality human in these ways, I'd recommend googling "tactical urbanism." That means: do quick, low-cost interventions in your neighbourhood, like painting a mural on the street, building flower boxes, or creating a pocket park. (Should probably get permission, but for some things, just do it). This all helps attract people to the street and builds a sense of ownership, which encourages folks to make more improvements, creating self-reinforcing momentum. All this reduces local crime, both because of eyes-on-the-street and because it creates a feeling that people are paying attention and care about the place.

If you have abandoned commercial spaces, put art up in the empty windows to reduce the feeling that a place has been abandoned. If your streets feel dangerous because of traffic, work with local leaders to get approval for making low-cost changes to make it safer. For example, you can create sidewalk bumpouts using simple flower boxes. Talk to local lenders about what they can do to help local businesses get off the ground.

Be warned that if all this is successful, it risks leading to a big jump in housing prices, i.e., gentrification. Keep in mind that "gentrification" also tends to make local residents wealthier — it's not as simple as the usual picture in which locals are simply pushed out. However, it is important to start thinking now about solutions, because this will lead to some push-back. Ideally, the city or nonprofits should buy land now while property values are cheap to create housing trusts for low-income residents. This will always be a tough issue though.

There is a lot of small actions you can take locally to shift the momentum of your community. Lots of people have done it — you can do it.

Source: I'm an urban planner.


Is there any evidence that putting art in empty windows actually helps? i see that a lot and I always find it kind of beseeching. Similarly my neighborhood has been putting up murals as an attempt to spur business development and it feels like I'm being sold on the neighborhood all the time.

here's a particularly egregious example: https://doc-0s-ak-mymaps.googleusercontent.com/untrusted/hos...

It's frustrating that graffiti is seen so negatively. of course I'm against vandalism and it certainly doesn't belong on building facades but I'd take a wall of mediocre graffiti that's constantly refreshed over a business development funded mural any day. at least graffiti is honest


your shorturl doesn't seem to work



> Keep in mind that "gentrification" also tends to make local residents wealthier — it's not as simple as the usual picture in which locals are simply pushed out.

I'm genuinely curious to see your sources on this -- isn't displacement of original residents the primary definition of gentrification?


Not everyone is renting in the gentrified areas. If you own, your equity goes up in value.


But all you can do with that is take out debt or move away. In the mean time, your property taxes go up


The problem at the core of gentrification is that when people do end up moving away, those formal and informal networks which helped them all get by are torn into pieces. The problem at the core of uncompromising anti-gentrification is that without growth, the city will stagnate or decay, without any of the money that could make things better (both on an individual level and from the perspective of the city budget.)

Managing this is hard, and will expose a politician to the realities of messy tradeoffs. It's far harder to find the political will to make something work, and much more convenient to shout either "Progress!" or "Oppression!" and make hard problems harder.


In addition to increased equity, I’d argue original residents also have an opportunity to take advantage of the increase in commerce with increased foot traffic to existing businesses or creating and supporting new businesses.


I could give you my email address if you would like to discuss further. There is lots of good research on all of this.


I'm not OP, but just bought a house in Golden, CO, and looking to do the same kind of things. Would you be willing to share your email address? My email is in my profile.


I know someone who has a great position at a well known financial firm. He had the cops called on him twice (he ends up taking long conference calls in his car outside).

The first time the cop was apologetic.

The second time the same cop recognizes him and says, "Dude, you have got to get to know your neighbors. Pie goes a long way."


Wait, he was just taking phone calls in a parked car? Is there something objectionable with that?

If my neighbors called the police on me for that, my first thought wouldn't be to bake pie for them.


Funny anecdote, two friends and I were sitting in a car in Eastern Europe in a rich neighbourhood (pretty much only VIPs and foreigners lived there).

We had some business with an army officer and he was busy with something so we had to wait.

About 20 minutes after we parked, an American woman comes and asks us what we're doing here and whether we need help.

That was weird because no one in our country does this, everyone minds their own business.

She did accept my explanation, but I had a feeling if we didn't move from there 10 minutes later she would've called the police on us :D


I (an American man) would probably have asked if you needed help but would never have called the cops. Long road trips are common in the US, so if someone is sitting in a car for a while my first reaction is "Maybe they're lost and the battery on their phone ran out. Should I ask if they need help with directions?"


Yeah, but this was in the city center, albeit on a pretty quiet street (surrounded by embassies and various government buildings). She seemed to want us gone more than helping us. I don't blame her, 3 people just sitting, talking in an Opel Omega is pretty suspicious by western standards :D


That behavior is not not (double negative intended) stereotypical for the kind of American woman who have the money to be able to travel internationally.


If he was anything like the ones that sit in their car in my neighborhood, he probably also kept the car running. I wouldn’t call the cops, but I’ve pecked on a few windows asking them to turn it off. (Plus, I’d be genuinely shocked if a Redmond, WA cop actually showed up for something that didn’t involve blood or gunshots.)


I think -- and I know as much about it as you do now -- from the neighbor's perspective it looks like: some stranger is outside my neighbor's (your) house in a car for hours. Is he casing the place? Why is he on the phone? Is he a lookout?


Calls in cars are a nuisance. They are extremely loud for some reason in a way that music rarely is, piercing through a car's exterior.


>Smile and wave to neighbors.

Yes. Increase "social capital."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital


I like to think of this as having a tremendous ripple effect - when I smile and thank the postman, he smiles at the next person he sees and maybe they're nice to the worker in the drive through at the restaurant, who goes home 1% less frustrated to their family.

Probably a bit overstated in that example, but if you walk around doing it consistently, I think that on average you're still making a small difference, while fighting apathy and politics of hate.


> Social capital

Interesting, I've always used this phrase to mean "I have a certain amount of energy to spend at a social event before having to go home and recharge." Example: "I spent all my social capital visiting my wife's parents yesterday, can we move game night to tomorrow night?"

TIL the phrase already has an actual meaning- one that's different. Thank you!


I echo this. I read someplace (can't recall now where) that once people see other trash in an area they are more likely to litter there themselves. Few people want to be the first to litter in the park, but if it is full of litter then who cares right?


I think you're remembering the broken windows theory [0], is that right? The a theory that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory


sounds like it :-)


This is the correct answer. Lead by example, start a movement and the political solutions will follow.


Love this. As the cliché goes, "be the change you want to see." Thanks!


1) Know which problem(s) you want to help solve. A very bad city will have many of them. Many or most may share a common cause, but enumerate and analyze them in isolation before acting on that assumption.

2) For each problem in the scope of your project, identify "better" and if possible quantify it. It's too easy to delude yourself that your efforts are "working" if you haven't decided explicitly in advance what that word means.

3) For each problem, identify a cause. For a city, this will probably be a feat of economics and/or public choice theory. Both are unfortunately riddled with ideology, and you have one of those, and it will be hard to keep them separate, but if you want to help you have to find a way.

4) Many of the problems are likely to share a common cause, a single point upon which to apply pressure to bring about large scale results. Analyze and study your way here, don't let your ideological sensibilities identify it for you. Get those as far out of your way as you are able. Hint: if you think you've found someone to harm or penalize as a solution (rich people, immigrants, drug addicts...) you probably slipped up in that effort.

5) Assess realistically whether there is anything you can do to address the cause.


If you’re by chance in Rockford, move to an old house in Midtown, Broadway or the northwest side and fix it up. The city is intent on gentrifying downtown and near east side, but the big reductions in violent and sexual crime are happening from individuals and small non-profits pouring love and attention into other areas.

This is actually similar to the police department’s strategy with the resident officer program—-they’re choosing similar areas and quality of homes.


Get involved in the cities government by volunteering, or serving on a city commission. Just start showing up to city council meetings and start learning what is going on and who the players are. You’ll figure out a way to help there.


Agreed.

Just showing up has an impact. I guarantee that simply being present will change everyone's behavior. Most meetings most of the time have no audience. If you keep showing up, you'll eventually figure out what's what.

My next piece of advice is to get on your representative's calendar. Pick an issue, any issue. No matter how small. Like fixing potholes or improving a road crossing. State the problem, propose a solution, make an ask, be cordial. 5 minutes. Then do it again. You likely won't "win" at first. Tenacious wins in the long run. At some point, politicians will do what you ask, just to make you go away.

I guarantee that there's a local issue, the more local the better, that you care about, that needs your attention. Anything and everything you can imagine is on the agenda at some point during the year.


Seconding the 'go to city council meetings.' Hearing first hand what goes on there will be helpful, and depending on the format, you can directly speak on issues you care about.


That right there is it. You'll have opportunity galore once you're privy to what's going on and what's needed.


Looks like I'll need to do some research on the city government. Thanks!


The best thing you can do is mentor youth and encourage them to seek education and employment in a rising or at least mid-level city.

The long term trend is urbanization and clusterization of industries and homes. This means a lot of old cities and rural areas which were built around one factory will not grow back up. This is just reality.

The youth have a lot of their life still left. The sooner they invest their lives in rising cities, the better.


Honestly consider the possibility of negative impact by increasing local wealth inequality. I’m assuming that you may live in a bigger house. You may shop at more expensive stores. You may have house cleaners.

Wealth inequality generally supports a servant economy more than a self-sufficient economy. Yes, you inject cash, but you are also diverting labor towards local services instead of global industry.

I know that it sounds silly for tech yuppies to talk about global industry in these desperate places, but that’s their only way out. They have to produce; they can’t just do services for any remaining wealthy residents, and rely on the government when the last ones leave. And you have to trust them to find a way.


This question reminded me of my favorite quote, I hope someone gets something out of this.

“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.

I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”


The easiest — absolutely easiest — thing you can do to improve your city is to pick up litter. Even if it's not yours. Especially if it's not yours.

I'm not talking about walking around the neighborhood with a trash bag. But just pick up one piece a day and put it where it belongs.

If everyone did that, many cities would be very different places.


Put on a sexy spandex suit and go kick some ass at night XD


Somehow Gotham never gets better, though...


Love this one :)


underrated answer.


I'd recommend reading some of Jane Jacob's work, specifically The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It illustrates the ideas of street life and what makes great places.

As for a direct idea, I'd try to get to know your neighbours, walk in your neighbourhood as often as possible, and support your local businesses.


Also immediately thought of Jane Jacobs when I read this post, particularly the concept of "eyes on the street".


In line with the broken-window-theory you could call the respective department to collect randomly deposited trash and bulk garbage or report broken infrastructure.

Also calling the police to report antisocial behavior like cars intentionally causing noise by means of illegal manipulations, excessive partying, etc.


Breaking out the bylaw book and getting the police on speed dial is fundamentally the wrong way to deal with visible poverty. A litany of $20-$200 fines is a net negative to the neighborhood no matter how you distribute them.


I refer to "antisocial behavior" - not "poverty".


Arguably that has worse connotations but if you think it's better then whatever.


Get involved in local politics. Observe council meetings and school board meetings and committee meetings. Whatever is public. This stuff can be boring; you'll observe pointless personality clashes and interminable dumb arguments, but at the same time, this is where important decisions that affect your community get made. Once you understand the issues, you can work to influence policy in the direction that you think is best for your city. You can do this by offering comments during public comment sessions, organizing a group of like-minded people, or even running for office yourself.

It's a big time committment, but this is how change happens. We like to malign our political system, but it's set up for you to participate, and that's something we should cherish.


My friend got involved in local politics and suddenly found herself moving out of the district because her landlord got a call informing him he hadn’t acquired the proper license to rent to her. There’s a lot of “soft” corruption, suddenly enforcing laws that never get enforced, and it’s really shitty, and any little thing in your past will come under scrutiny.

She was running against the incumbent and they pulled up whatever dirt they could to get her to move out of the district.


At least she presumably took her life lesson about government to the next district. Unfortunate that her landlord had to deal with the headache though.


Cory Booker as a city councilman did this in miniature. His book describes it. At one point he made his office the parking lot outside a troubled projects building - lots of crime and trafficking were reported there and he wanted to help. So while his office was there (under tents) crime was greatly diminished from the area. It’s at least an example like you’re looking to do.

If you had some money, I’d maybe look into building a multigenerational center.

The residents of Detroit have also done some things you could mimic. In the fallout of the 2007-8 Great Recession, the entire city saw huge desertion. The people who stayed saw the city becoming a ghost city all around them. There are probably things and ideas there to help you in your quest.

If I had infinite money though, I’d even consider doing seemingly hard to politically envision things like employing the locals en masse. Preferably it’d be in things like long term investment. Maybe you could bootstrap some local industry with long term sustainability. Simply giving people work that pays better than crime will get crime off the streets in large part.

One way of this would be to make a societal dormitory of sorts. Basically a large building where people can get just enough of a space to themselves to have a place to be. Have a cafeteria so you can benefit from economies of scale. Have things like a laundromat and garden for giving people things to do, further economies of scale, and healthy options. Give them maybe 20-100/week to figure themselves out. Have in house therapists, etc.


>So while his office was there (under tents) crime was greatly diminished from the area. It’s at least an example like you’re looking to do.

Having a politician who has the police at his beck and call set up shop there seems like it just displaces the problem instead of solving it but I guess if you scope your goal to the neighborhood it does solve it.


Having a politician physically present who isn't going to call the police frivolously, and has reduction of police brutality as part of his stated agenda, might very well have more positive knock-on effects for a neighborhood than simply displacing crime to a different place.


There are plenty of people working on the big issues. Adding your voice is unlikely to make much of a difference. Fix the things you can.


Let Cory Booker's commitment to the politically salient photo op never waver.


Pay your taxes. Vote for the interests of the working poor. Volunteer with organizations that improve the material conditions of unhoused people in your area.


Join your local facebook group and get involved. My facebook group South Silly has done a lot to stitch together South Philly over the last ~5 years. Businesses have launched, friendships and marriages have formed, etc. We also have a webseries highlighting local personalities, businesses, artists, and musicians http://southsillycam.com


Lead by example. Clean up litter and weeds in your neighborhood. Bake treats for your neighbors, bring them by and introduce yourself. Offer to help them fix anything you notice is broken. Get involved in community watch / community policing efforts offered by your local police department. Create a safe environment in your own home and facilitate the same in your immediate community.


First of all Thank you for thinking about y/our community,

Here are few thoughts,

Mornings/evenings. Have yoga camps it need not be physical yoga, there are quite an extensive range of breathing exercises which can be done just be sitting

Local ppl upgrading is important, (young ppl learn and leave) it's important to educate the existing community, Conduct bootcamps, there is incredible content online, get together, have learnathons around them and help each other finish you don't need any expert to get things kickstarted

Evenings, identify local talent and organise cultural programs

Someone suggested buddha, go one step further have nothing, have an empty space where only rule is no one talks(teach meditation if possible but make it a knowledge not religion based as it leads to groupism)

The no talking space and cultural performance space can share the same compound, you can come up with a cool name for that, something where a milleneal can say I performed at that.

There is happiness in giving, organize volunteer activities like cleaning, planting trees etc etc


I think the people you're reaching through such activities are not the people you actually want to reach to improve your neighborhood, or the city as a whole.


Do you mind elaborating pls,

From happiness to spending quality time socially feeling important is basic need for any human being, pls correct me. Never been to Detroit but seen streets of SF and India so I thought I have enough sample size.


I think that people who voluntarily go to yoga or meditation lessons or participate in "Learnathons" are not the same people who you need to influence to make a neighborhood better. Young people don't join a gang because of a critical lack of yoga lessons in their neighborhood.


I haven't officially "launched" it yet as I still have a lot more to do, but I've been working on a community website to track air quality & industry in my community, as I live in Gary, IN, nestled in the the middle of some mega polluters.

My neighbours and I got sick 2 years ago from some foul smell in the air and we ended up buying a PurpleAir monitor, and then I just tried to track everything pollution-related I could.

Of course, I'm the one who runs the monitor, website, etc, vested time, effort, money highlighting the issue of pollution, and on 8th September this year, my daughter was born with congenital heart disease, whose condition is made worse by pollution. Go figure.

https://millerbeach.community https://github.com/kingsloi/community-airmonitor


I didn't read the post sorry, just the title. I didn't see it was related to crime, I thought you were asking generally speaking. I can't talk about decreasing crime as Gary has a pretty bad reputation for it, but I'd be surprised if there wasn't a correlation between greenery (nature, trees, plants, flowers, etc) and crime, even if there wasn't any, I know being surrounded by nature is good for us/mental wellbeing.


You were right first time, they were just asking in general.

Your answer is one of better ones here. It's a good Micro that can lead to a Macro.


You can invest in testing apparatus and identify areas in need of environmental remediation, and then advocate/fundraise for the remediation.

Lead exposure in children is highly correlated with crime rates, and is also negatively correlated with academic achievement.

Helping to improve chances for success is definitely a micro thing you can do that has a macro effect.


My thoughts on the subject matter as metaphor:

crawl => walk => jog => run => sprint Gotta learn to crawl before you walk [and so on..]

[crawl]- Pick a new city. Me: Houston. local/inner circle/same street/apartment complex

[walk] - meet new people at work, hang out. It's tough but still possible in really big cities such as HTX.

[jog] - Naturally you will spend more time with those that you are more attractive to. Key word. Natural. If you fake it to make it, you'll probably just end up in the wrong crowd and not realize it. Story of my life. Possibly.

[.. and so on... you'll eventually find something that ticks you off enough to do something about it. At that point, you should just go for it. Considering you've made it this far with several great quality replies on HN.]

^ Having a structure like this beforehand can inevitably point you in the right direction for what you are trying to accomplish.

I hope this message provides some value. Regardless, best of luck!


Vote. If people are in office for years and years with no change, vote them out. They are not helping anyone but themselves. Vote for new people with new ideas. Canvas for those people. Get involved in politics yourself. Encourage others to vote.

Sure, economics (and everything related) are probably a major factor in most of these cities, but in my opinion, politics is a huge factor as well and most likely influences politics.

Many politicians say they are going to fix problems but just throw money at things, hope for the best, and wonder why things aren't better (or play the blame game).

Also, do some beautification and encourage others to do so. Maybe start a grassroots effort to clean up a park, a street, remove graffiti, whatever. Make the world physically a better place.

Vote for lower taxes, especially for small businesses. Let people open a corner store or restaurant but give them a chance to grow.

Just my $0.02


Find ways to have mutual learning [1] with your community. One pathway (I've been thinking about a lot) might be through starting a community garden.

[1] Nora Bateson touching on this: https://youtu.be/AEYkRFnRn5Q?t=1493


Local news. An informed public is necessary for real democracy and any real chance of solving real problems. Solving problems in a city is neigh impossible if the majority of citizens are unaware of what's going on in their own community. Take a look at what Alice Dreger (now one of my heroes) is doing with a tiny budget and a few dedicated locals in East Lansing: https://rdi.org/democracy-examined/2020/8/28/citizen-journal...


Finding ways to create jobs is probably a good way to help. Jobs give income, security, something to do. You can create your own culture based on your worldview and values. It’s hard to pull off though.


If you live in New York City - consider joining a community board. They are the first level of civic engagement and cover everything from transportation, open streets, liquor licensing, quality of life, environmental protection, and education. My boyfriend is on our local community board and has found it very valuable, especially during covid.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_boards_of_New_York_C...


You can get an calendar subscription of the meetings of the CBs with the new websites with:

https://cb<BOROUGH>.cityofnewyork.us/cb<NUMBER_OF_COMMUNITY_...

(HN truncates rendered URL so copy the link dst and then fill in the madlib.)


I was thinking of launching a kickstarter campaign to bootstrap a city-wide mesh network in my city. The idea would be to have a text-based communication network that works in emergencies, is censorship-resistant and encrypted. I could collect money for X nodes to cover the whole city by approaching cafes, bars, libraries or universities and asking them to contribute by setting up a node for them. If successful, maybe other cities would follow the example and the citizens of each would bootstrap their own networks.


What cities have mesh networks that are working well?


Get involved in local politics. Go to community meetings. Learn who has power and start building your own. These kinds of things take years.

If you don't want to do that, at least start donating to local politicians who you agree with, volunteer for them, tell your friends to vote for them. Local races are often won by dozens to hundreds of votes. You can easily swing that. And don't focus on "highest value" work. Door-to-door canvassing is more important than any code you can write.


Volunteer! Encourage others to do the same!

One thing I'm doing that's actually having a significant impact is helping out build local mountain biking and hiking trails. This has downstream effects as it gives kids something to do that's healthy and positive.

I have other friends that volunteer in churches and various ministries playing music which also has downstream effects.

Remember the line for the homeless shelter is very long out front, but the door on the backside of the building where volunteers enter never has a line.


I live in a "Top 10 most dangerous cities in the U.S." What can I do to help?

Jane Jacobs is probably most famous for saying "eyes on the street" is the key to safety. To get eyes on the street: Walk more, tend to your front yard and be visibly out and about. Encourage other people to do the same.

I also recommend the book The Tipping Point.

You might be interested in joining r/CitizenPlanners on Reddit. I run it. I previously ran a Citizen Planners subforum on Cyburbia years ago.


Report to local government issues such as potholes, misleading traffic signs, bugs in traffic signs, illegally placed advertisements...

In my city (Kraków, Poland) it leads to fixes. It is important to remember that whoever maintains infrastructure is not omniscient and such reports are likely to be useful.

This one is likely to be useful in addition to other actions given your target.


Study.

What is most common, and least helpful, in societal issues, is to look to an authority for a quick fix, presuming that protest and action from above cures all ills. But how did they get that authority?

Well, at some point they most likely researched a topic to the point where they could craft a convincing argument.

But that isn't where the matter should rest. When you want better, you have to set a benchmark for better.

And so studies are the tool - deep, rich ones, crafted around the specific scenario. This lets you convince the public and authorities, one at a time, that a certain course of action has merit. Often, officials respond well to requests to study a topic: It builds a path to legitimize action. But you have to hold your own standards high too, and not fall into partisan ways of thinking.

Sometimes you can approach with a broad message, other times you should focus on developing a small circle of people. It is not a uniform thing.


This is nuanced, but..

Sometimes your own personal preferences are different from what you think would be best for the city or region. When that occurs, advocate for - tell friends, vote, donate, etc. - the policy that you think is best for the city, even if it's worse for you.

Residential zoning is a ready example because split positions come up all the time. I can't count the number of times I've heard "I agree that the city needs more housing and that the current zoning doesn't make sense, but I like it the way it is."

While nobody's going to fault you for putting yourself first, if you want to help improve the city, put it before yourself.

(Of course, often someone believes that a given policy is best for the city and it's also their personal preference. In those cases, my comment doesn't apply.)


Am I insane for thinking permaculture? Get out of the city lifestyle mindset and turn more people into rob greenfield style mindset. Everybody’s already thinking it, people are starting to do it, and it could just be the next big thing that does wonders for people happiness and healing the environment.


In a city where a major drawback is overcrowding, and as a person who might just be another average one in the crowd, statistically the city might be better off if you left town.

OTOH, if you have above average ambition or ability for improvement and are willing to take that kind of action, the city can become a better place to live just from sticking around and doing more of what you are strongest at in that direction.

Especially if you can motivationally leverage that ambition to grow within the crowd.

Otherwise you can't tackle the problems where one person is simply not enough.

Might be the only way improvements have ever been made in an environment which attracts a crowd to begin with.

The micro thing is to not lose the ambition and ability you have now, firm up the foundation as much as needed so you can build stronger actions than could be taken from that point otherwise.


Get others around you to believe and hope in your neighbourhood and then as a team, you can start to dictate what you want the neighbourhood to be like. Many people are willing to help in my experience but either don't because of lethargy or fear.

For example, some people in an estate in London got together and started planting flowerbeds to make the estate look really nice. Because everyone was involved, you can imagine what happened when some people from another estate came to damage it (hint, the locals stood up for themselves and their hard work).

Work out what makes your neighbourhood "most dangerous" and target some of that. Perhaps lobby for more streetlights, clean up some areas, pool some cash to help fix up someone's house.


Much important change happens one individual at a time. So I would say: 1) Honesty (with kindness). 2) Treating others the way oneself would want to be treated (the Golden Rule). 3) Be observant for anyone doing anything good & praiseworthy and encourage them ("good job at ___ing! Way to go! I like it!"). 4) find opportunities to serve, and also encourage others. One way is via https://www.justserve.org/ which lets individuals find organizations looking for local volunteers, or organizations post what they do so individuals can find them (free).

edit: 5?: While at it, be good to your family. An excellent long-term investment.


> "What is the micro thing I can do today, that can have a chance of a macro change tomorrow?"

You could to a small thing, making your home exterior look presentable. By cleaning/improving the outside of your home, you have a positive impact on the rest of the community. After that, you can try helping neighbours improve their homes and the area will slowly improve...

This is related to the [1] Broken Window Theory.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory#:~:text=....


Last time I encountered mentions of [1] was in "Humankind" by Bregman, and there he says it was not really "scientific" experiment, stretched some facts.

https://www.ft.com/content/63803e14-95d9-11ea-af4b-499244625...


The simplest thing is make friends with your neighbors. Once you have a bond with your neighborhood, you can become educated about local issues, and spread this knowledge among your community. Then the community can work collectively toward its interests.

Even if you live in a rich / sheltered community, you can still help your neighbors understand the needs of underprivileged communities and how they can help.

Finally, organize community engagement days. One day a week for you and your neighbors to clean up, attend a city council meeting, learn about current events, or vote in local elections. Or just have a mini block party for people to chat.


Get to know your neighbors, local businesses, make ties to people. Attend city council meetings or whatever similar opportunities you have to get involved in minutiae. Pick an issue you care about like education, parks, bike lanes, whatever, and approach advocacy and learning like a hobby. The more people get engaged with face-to-face networking or organizing, the more the city is empowered to change. A lot of the real or perceived random violence and intractable social problems are really predictable outcomes of racist and impoverishing policies and habits.


Pick up trash, plant a tree, install a bike rack, comment at city council meeting (extra easy these days because they take voicemail now), volunteer to feed the homeless, install/stock a free little library.


Every broken city is broken in its own way. Heck, every neighborhood is broken in its own way. Unless you're more specific about what is going on, the advice you'll get here will be not be effective.


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