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Planting Community in Central Florida

Great Lakes Urban is glad to be supporting the emergence of new neighborhood strengthening work in central Florida through the adaptation and integration of our signature CommunityWorks framework. Why Florida?

In 2005, the University of Central Florida conducted a research project on the state of social capital in Florida. This was shortly after Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone was released and the goal was to see if the level of social capital in Florida was really as bleak as noted in the book. Overall, the local research confirmed Putnam’s findings for Florida, but, there was one detail that emerged from the study that is unique to Florida. In my (Megan) home state, one of the main contributors to the development of social capital (especially of neighbors getting to know each other) is hurricanes.

For those who have never experienced a hurricane, there’s a lot of last-minute preparation as the storm could turn, strengthen, or weaken within a day. While it’s never a surprise (as one episode of Golden Girls alluded to), there’s a shared experience of preparing for something that you don’t really know how bad it will be. After the hurricane passes, the damage is assessed. Neighbors come out to help cut down trees that fell, collect limbs and debris, and, in the unfortunate instances, provide shelter and safety for families whose home isn’t safe. In these moments, you must rely on your neighbors as the fallen trees and downed power lines could prevent anyone from coming into or out of the neighborhood. It’s in moments like these that we are reminded of our need for one another. From checking in on neighbors to make sure they’re safe to passing a cup of much-needed coffee over the fence when your neighbor's power is still off (Thanks again, Larry!).

These bonds don’t just last in the aftermath. As damage can be severe, we’ve also seen neighbors come together and collaborate years later for their homes to be restored. In one such neighborhood, neighbors are advocating for repairs to homes that have been under distress since the trifecta of hurricanes in 2004. At a recent meeting, one neighbor shared that many people outside the neighborhood often assume it was torn down years ago. And yet, these neighbors are leading by advocating for their neighborhood. At Great Lakes Urban, we work to strengthen neighborhoods on both levels, both in the connecting and relationships, and in helping neighbors live into their power to create the vibrant, safe, and disaster-prepared communities for which they long.

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