This post is part of the Portraits of Place series.
When it comes to community-based media on our green blocks, I have been surprised to find that the high tech and glitzy doesn’t get as much leverage as the low-tech, human, and heartfelt. Many community-based groups refrain from using creative media such as digital films, songs, or newsletters because the groups are largely volunteer-driven and there’s an assumption it will take hours and a collaboration with an expert to make it look good. However, working with Judy Kolligian, the dedicated originator and captain of the Sheridan Street green block, has led me to discover otherwise.
Judy is a self-admitted technophobe who is still getting the hang of the at times frustrating green block Google Group we established last month, but her real-life neighborhood network is thriving, with 30 households, 1/6 of the total, participating in green activities in the past year such as Smart Energy Parties, Low Carbon Living groups, or free home energy assessments. A bunch of neighbors joined the green block effort when Judy distributed a hand-written newsletter copied on her home printer, and more showed up when she started writing personalized notes to neighbors in the corners of event invitations. In both cases, our group could have spent hours painstakingly designing a version using an expensive and complicated computer program, and would have gotten worse results.
Judy’s latest inspiration has been transforming Christmas carol lyrics into environmental ruminations about our Jamaica Plain neighborhood and how we can lower our energy footprint. Our group of BostonCANtata singers were surprised when a large crowd at the ice cream store JP Licks gathered around us, laughed, and cheered during our performance instead of giving us weirded out looks, or, worse, pretending we weren’t even there.
We then decided to take the carols to the green block, going to doors of Judy’s neighbors who had gotten involved in the group this past year. It was a great way to connect with them as fellow human beings in a creative way that was less cerebral and defined by an agenda – much different than our meetings or events. In the intimacy of their homes, they showed us recent construction they had done or shared news about their holiday plans. Many who had expressed hesitation before about taking further action to weatherize their home reconsidered after hearing our song about it.
These lessons are important as city planners and government officials try to meet statewide carbon reduction goals and create strategies to convince residents to adopt sustainable behaviors. A billboard or commercial advertising an energy-saving service or device is not nearly as likely to get results as community-based, personalized interactions between people who already know one another. Using low-tech, local media (thinking of media here in a broader sense) is one way of making larger problems and higher ideas feel palpable, while also raising enthusiasm and morale among participants – an important emotional resource that is often undervalued or not even considered in higher-level calculations.
My 2011 goal as an organizer is to further explore how we can take the energized, low-tech, personal commitment on blocks like Judy’s and use technology to further it more – for example, geocoding green block participants and resources and creating a wiki that exists both online and on paper to network participants with one another and connect them to wider resources and goals. The more that participants’ creative voices could be incorporated into this technology, and the lower the barriers to using it, the better.
Deck the Halls – Green Block Lyrics
Written by Judy Kolligian, Sheridan St. Green Block Captain
Spare the landfills, let’s recycle
fa la la la lah – la la la lah
Save the gas and go by cycle
(now insert your own fa la las)
Use less stuff, don’t fill your barrel
Please excuse our silly carol
Catalogues come by the millions
Then the junk mail by the billions
While the forests all grow smaller
It’s enough to MAKE US HOLLER!
Why not walk to JP Center?
It’s so hard by car to enter
Shrink your footprint, slim your waist down
It’s the best way to go downtown
fa la la la lah – la la la lah
Post by Ninya Loeppky.