civic engagement moncton

Community Awareness is Key to Civic Engagement

Small actions can have massive impacts. Sometimes in the debates and discussions around civic issues, we forget the importance of the tiny projects and individual actions that create a compound effect in our community.

I enjoyed reading Alan Cochrane’s recent account of commuting with Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold. The Mayor bikes to the office most days, or rides public transportation if conditions aren’t ideal. It’s a conscious choice she makes to connect with the community. Taking the time to walk or ride through the city streets gives you a chance to stop and chat, a chance to see things from a different perspective, and the chance to truly think about what you’re experiencing in a way that’s not possible when you’re driving. In addition to talking with people and admiring new construction, the Mayor takes the time to notice potholes and graffiti and reports these issues to the appropriate City departments – something she encourages every citizen to do. “This is about getting everybody to be an engaged citizen and feel pride of place and pride in their neighbourhood,” she says.

Pride of place is a term you’ve read many times in this column over the past two years. I was about to leave Canada to pursue a Masters degree in economic geography focusing on just what power pride of place can play in keeping otherwise marginalized communities vibrant when I was offered a contract in Moncton. As you might have guessed, I didn’t end up with that degree, but I did end up owning a home in New Brunswick, a province that is working towards embracing and understanding just what economic opportunity exists within its population’s pride of this place.

I don’t just mean touting our mountain ranges and ocean views and seafood delicacies to potential visitors. I mean truly harnessing the power that comes from sharing every New Brunswicker’s story. When we stand up and celebrate each other’s achievements, when we tell our children the stories of the people who created empires and dashed stereotypes, when we remind ourselves that each day people find a way to turn their love for this place into opportunity, we inch towards a brighter future.

There are many small acts we can do to express that pride and encourage it to grow in others. I also found myself reading an article this week about a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania completed a randomized controlled trial studying the effect on citizen’s mental health when vacant lots were tidied up. The researchers interviewed 350 people living near more than 500 vacant lots; one group of lots were left in disarray, one set had trash removed, and the third set received the grass and fence makeover.  A photo from the study shows a small corner lot, overrun with weeds, litter, and a dilapidated chain fence. Next to that is the same corner, mowed and sodded, with a tidy wooden fence. The updates were made for less than $1,500. When interviewed after the work, those living near the remediated lots revealed an average 40% reduction in depressed feelings and a 50% reduction in feeling worthless. The lots didn’t get huge improvements; there were no benches or swings or anything to invite people in to enjoy the space. Simply being near a location that showed someone had pride in how it looked improved the mental health of those around it.

So let’s head the Mayor’s words and make the time to call when we see something that should be fixed. That small act on your part could have a much bigger impact for us all.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

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