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Unleashing the Potential of Neighborhoods

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

This post is part of an ongoing series discussing how Great Lakes Urban is catalyzing the 7 functions of a flourishing neighborhood.

Oftentimes, when we think about the places we inhabit, our imagination is drawn to what is lacking or problematic. In our neighborhoods – whether a neighborhood, subdivision, apartment complex, or small town – this might be the lack of sidewalks, the run down housing, or the unhoused population. When problems capture our imagination, our energy is spent trying to fix issues.


At Great Lakes Urban, our focus is different. Our imagination is for flourishing places, because flourishing places affect the trajectory of all of the youth, families, businesses, and organizations that call that place home. Creating flourishing places begins with establishing a strong social infrastructure, one that is marked by a sense of belonging, a feeling of community, and the drive to work across differences to achieve the common good.


A dynamic social infrastructure provides the relationships, norms, and participation that allows a community to unlock its latent potential. In science, the word potential means “stored energy.” A boulder, for example, has stored energy that is converted into kinetic energy when it is pushed off a cliff. Neighborhoods have stored energy that can be unleashed to attain a better future state.


One way to recognize potential at the neighborhood level is by categorizing the capacities of residents and other local assets. The ABCD Institute’s research has identified six categories that are essential building blocks for creating a better, stronger future for all. The following Six Building Blocks are assets or resources that enhance local wellbeing:


1. Residents: Every neighborhood is home to people who bring with them numerous gifts, abilities, skills, and knowledge. These include everything from hobbies, such as singing and art, to skills, such as mechanics and woodworking.


2. Associations: Small informal groups of people, such as clubs, working with a common interest as volunteers are critical to community mobilization. They don’t control anything; they are just coming together around a common interest by their individual choice.


3. Institutions: Paid groups of people who generally are professionals that are structurally organized are called institutions. They include government agencies, private business, schools, etc. The assets of these institutions help the community capture valuable resources.


4. Physical Assets: Physical assets in a neighborhood includes the built infrastructure, such as its buildings, roads, and electrical lines. It also includes natural capital, such as its parks, gardens, open spaces, air quality, and more.


5. Local Economy: The neighborhood’s economy includes everything from informal connections that meet local needs, such as a tool lending library, to formal monetary exchanges for goods and services rendered.


6. Stories and culture: The stories of what’s worked, the cultural heritage of a group, the local values and identity of its people.


At Great Lakes Urban we have found that Neighborhood Connectors are key to unleashing a community’s potential by discovering their neighborhoods capacities and assets, connecting people to each other and to resources, and mobilizing residents to work together for the common good. Their work builds the relationships, norms, and participation that leads to inside-out transformation.


As communities learn to unleash their potential through Neighborhood Connectors, they are able to live into what the ABCD Institute refers to as the Seven Functions of a Flourishing Neighborhood. These seven functions describe the ways that neighborhoods are uniquely positioned to catalyze flourishing. Throughout the year, we will periodically blog about the following seven functions.


The following Seven Function of Flourishing Neighborhoods are bottom-up, disaggregated, hyper-local, and citizen-led.









Importantly, you can be a part of catalyzing flourishing right where you live. Want to contribute your time and talent to grow belonging and wellbeing in your neighborhood? You can find ideas to get you started at the Great Neighbor tab on our website. Do you want to help grow the movement nationally? You can donate securely to Great Lakes Urban, also from our website. Your support will help equip and deploy a growing network of Neighborhood Connectors who are unleashing stored potential throughout the country.


Together we can!

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