Neighborhood Building, Part 1: Lessons from Ballard’s “Micro-‘hoods”

Neighborhood builders and activists joined together Monday night at an event sponsored by Sustainable Ballard to discuss ways to build a sense of community and help foster happiness in our urban neighborhoods. What is a ‘Micro-hood?,’ you ask?  It’s simply a cluster of residents, a block or multi-block area who know each other, socialize and look out for each other. Studies have shown that being part of a strong neighborhood community, gives one a powerful sense of being connected which reduces stress and boosts happiness!! Those are big paybacks in these still uncertain times.

How best to create a vibrant Micro-hood? There was no one, big answer; rather the consensus was that it was the cumulative effect of many small steps and ongoing events that create a true sense of community, starting neighbor by neighbor, block by block. At this meeting moderated by John Boylan, five Ballard residents/couples were invited to give their stories of neighborhood building, followed by a lively discussion of other ideas and questions. Many ideas shared a common theme of regular meals with neighborhoods and friends. The word, “Companionship”, derives from the “coming together with bread.”

Betsy and Roger told of how they came to host a monthly Waffle Sunday on their super-connected Ballard block.  For the last five years they have been serving up waffles, coffee and juice to their neighbors and friends. Thirty to forty guests typically show up, bringing toppings to share.  The regular meeting and conversation has created a strong interconnected neighborhood.

Peggy and Juhani built a wood-fired pizza oven in their backyard, and realized that once the oven was ready, it made sense to invite others over to share the fresh pizza. Slowly this evolved into a regular Pizza Saturday event in their patio, spilling over to their driveway. They welcome all who stop by. For the last five years they have graciously been providing the pizza ingredients; guests help do the prep work and bring beverages. A great time is had by all, including a multi-generational group that includes neighbors, their kids, kids’ friends and former teachers.

Ron and David live in a former church property on 20th Avenue NW, where they generously offer their big space, the former sanctuary, for neighborhood events like art openings, meals and discussion groups.

Mark, an architect with a passion for neighborhoods, told of how re-habilitating in old house in Ballard with a big front porch, introduced him to his neighbors, who stop by to monitor progress. He credits his big front porch, close to the busy sidewalk in a walkable neighborhood as a key to meeting his neighbors and creating social connections.

Residents on Dibble Avenue wanted to foster a streetscape friendly to children and families. It started with successful neighborhood block parties held in August, the famed “Nibble on Dibble”.  Many families had young children, so they decided to move their play structures and outdoor toys to their front yards, where kids can feel free to play in each others’ yards and parents share a watchful eye.Another told of regular Outdoor Movie nights in August, with movies projected on a large garage door, and neighbors dragging out couches and cushions.

There are also many on-going social events and groups in Ballard that foster community on a bigger scale. Sustainable Ballard has sub-groups such as The Urban Crop Circle (an organic gardening group), the Edible Garden Tour, a Transportation Guild and a Sustainable Home Guild. They are already at work organizing for the Sustainable Ballard Festival, scheduled for September 24th at Ballard Commons Park.

Many credited Groundswell NW ( , a local volunteer group focused on adding parks and open space, with creating park spaces where residents can gather.  Equally important, their volunteer activities, working together with the City’s Matching Grant programs, to build the parks, P-Patches and on-going maintenance built has built personal connections throughout the community. Another group hosts Conversations that Matter, on-going discussions on a selected topic at local cafes.

A forthcoming article will cover the other neighborhood building ideas discussed in Ballard, and those being brought up here in Broadview, by our own local groups and through the Neighborhood Planning Update process.    So, stay tuned, stay active in your community, stay happy!

Volunteers at the Bitter Lake P-Patch

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