Building Vibrant Neighbourhoods

By Tina Novotny – First Appeared in The East Yorker

Don’t call a meeting, plan a party! That was the message shared by Jim Diers, DECA’s guest speaker and an acclaimed urban connectivity expert.

He spoke at Monarch Park Collegiate on the evening of Tuesday September 17th to an audience that came from across the city to find out how to build relationships and bring people together on community projects, where there’s a role for everyone.

Jim generously shared his slides and allowed DECA to record his hour-long presentation. It is divided into five parts. The first part is posted above, and the second part “Have Fun!” below. You can watch and listen to all five parts of his presentation here.

His passion is contagious. “Don’t sit on your assets. Everyone has something to offer… People bring their knowledge, passion or skill,” he says and then advises organizers to lead by stepping back. “Never do for people what they can do for themselves.”

“Rebuilding the social fabric is the key to everything,” he states, citing factors that have broken down traditional neighbourhood values.

Jim Diers says a great way to start re-building is to create “bumping places” such as clean-up work crews, community gardens, farmers’ markets, mural-painting projects, or even more creative campaigns such as an Australian community’s smile spies who rate and post average smiles per neighbourhood. “Agencies are motivated by data, communities are motivated by stories,” he says. He also cautions organizers themselves not to be “G.D. activists: grim and determined!”


Diers shares stories with a lot of humour, such as on-going homage to Seattle’s massive troll sculpture under a freeway, the “Free the Bench” campaign to un-fence a bench under the Skytrain in Surrey, B.C., or a travelling living room capturing community input in Darwin, England. Diers says organizations like DECA are sprouting lots of their own terrific ideas, contributing to Toronto’s reputation as a mecca of neighbourhood creativity.

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“This is an outstanding city but you could take it to a whole other level,” he says. “I get so inspired by people like you – Keep it going!”

Visit Jim Diers’ website or you can reach Jim via email. The event was co-sponsored by DECA, WoodGreen Community Services and the Metcalf Foundation.