Chapter 2: Whenever Two or More Are Gathered: Organizing Your Community
Whenever Two or More Are Gathered: Organizing Your Community
By now you may have started thinking there's real potential for improvement in your neighborhood. The question is, what are you going to do to make it happen? More important, what do you do first? It may seem obvious, but before you do anything, research your neighborhood.
|Never doubt that a small group of concerned people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
HOLD ON A MINUTE!
For all you know, someone may already be planting or planning to plant. You may not know because existing efforts are often underpublicized. Nonetheless, time and energy have been expended and lessons may already have been learned. As we alluded to at the end of the last chapter, community efforts require, above all else, cooperation, trust, and goodwill, so it's most important to avoid unintentional offense by announcing a project that apparently ignores an existing one.
Can you play a role in the existing effort? Does it match your goals? If not, are the principals willing or able to adapt their project to include your ideas and goals, or you theirs? There is neither time nor money for competition in this arena. If it is truly not possible to work with an existing effort, be sure to make your own project distinct and complementary rather than competitive.
If you're on your own out there and want to start something more than you can handle with just a couple of neighbors, seek out organizations such as chambers of commerce, homeowners associations, and citizen-planning commissions, who may have a strong interest in taking part in projects that support their missions. Other organizations like garden clubs, scout troops, religious groups, local schools and PTAs, service clubs, corporate volunteer programs, and neighborhood-watch groups might want to use a street-tree planting to further benefit the community.
|How's Your Community Doing?
American Forests Magazine tells us that a community can divide the average life span of its trees into the total tree count (including vacant planting locations) to come up with the approximate number of trees that should be planted annually to replace those being lost. New York City, for example, has 700,000 trees or tree spaces in its inventory. Dividing thirty-two (the life span of an average urban tree) into that number yields 21,875 trees that New York should be planting each year. As a whole, the U.S. isn't doing too well. In our cities on average, we are planting one tree for every four lost.
It's likely that groups such as these will be able to tap many of the resources needed for tree projects, like volunteers and fundraising capability, not to mention friends in high places. To help you find out what organizations exist in your community, refer to The Encyclopedia of Associations published by Gale Research.
As we've said earlier, when you make the commitment to working and getting along with others to create a tree project, you're already having a positive effect on the lives of others. Once you know how to inspire and unite people toward a common goal—in this case to green your community—you'll rapidly find there are many issues about which you and your neighbors feel strongly. A single individual facing city hall has come to symbolize the impossible fight. But an organized group is more visible with the potential to directly influence city decisions. A group dedicated to planting trees in the neighborhood will get a reputation as a group dedicated to public service. Tree projects can be just the beginning. Don't worry about what an organization should look like or be. Just take it a step at a time and look for ways to accept others into the fold.
|What's It Worth?
Dr. Rowan Rowntree with the U.S. Forest Service estimates that our current urban forest may already be saving this country $4 billion in energy costs. But what about the smaller scale? Another study shows that property value can increase as much as 20 percent with the addition of trees.
The Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers uses the concept of replacement value to put numbers on individual tree values. Their formula starts with an assigned basic value for a tree's shade production and other functions, based on the diameter of the trunk. By that standard, the 1988 value of a ten-inch-diameter tree, for example, was $1,729. The tree's health, location, and species are factored into the final figure.
In 1985, the American Forestry Association did a rough estimate of the annual values that an average fifty-year-old urban tree would supply: air conditioning, $73; soil erosion and stormwater control, $75; wildlife shelter, $75; and air pollution control, $50. Total value in 1985 dollars: $273. Total value, compounded at 5 per cent for fifty years: $57,151!
MORE THAN YOUR OWN BACKYARD
Some distinct advantages encourage broadening your tree project into a community activity—even if that means taking on one another's yards. A large-scale tree project will have a greater impact on the look of your neighborhood and provide substantial benefits for the environment as a whole.
WHAT DO TREES REALLY DO FOR US?
2. Clean the air by absorbing odors and pollution.
3. Conserve energy by shading and cooling homes and buildings and breaking up urban heat islands, thereby reducing the need for air-conditioning.
4. Reduce water consumption and increase atmospheric moisture.
5. Prevent water runoff and soil erosion by breaking rainfall and holding soil.
6. Produce food and mulch.
7. Provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife.
8. Transform barren areas and provide buffers from harsh urban landscapes.
9. Increase property values and improve business traffic.
10. Add unity, identity, landmarks, and pride to communities working together.
11. Absorb noise, dust, and heat.
12. Reduce glare.
13. Provide visual barriers and fire and wind breaks.
14. Provide fuel and craft wood.
15. Serve as a vehicle for personal and community activism.
16. Provide employment.
17. Turn vacant lots into parks and playgrounds.
18. Provide protection against the increase in cancer-causing ultraviolet rays due to the depletion of the ozone layer.
19. Serve as friends, companions, playmates, and teachers.
20. Provide spiritual and creative inspiration.
21. Dramatically accentuate seasons in the city.
22. Act as symbols of life, peace, hope for the future, and life-style change.
23. Produce a sense of rootedness, connectedness, and community.
If you decide to plant trees on public property, remember that consolidation means you can reduce paperwork. Most cities require tree permits but will sometimes issue a blanket permit for a group of trees. It is best if you can purchase bulk supplies, because the cost per tree decreases every time you add one to your project. If you need to hire a contractor to cut cement sidewalks, you'll save money if the work is performed under one contract at one time, even if your sites are spread around the neighborhood a little. Cutting tree wells at different times will certainly add to the cost.
How do you interest your neighbors in a tree project when, with our busy lives, just getting together for dinner can be a challenge? In this chapter, you'll read concrete suggestions for capturing local interest and support, which will be the first of many changes in your neighborhood.
Before you let your neighbors in on your ideas, set your own goals. Tree projects take many forms. You may want to simply fill in the gaps in your already-planted street, or perhaps plant the next generation if your street trees are mature. Or you may feel like tackling a large-scale planting along the whole street, either on private property or on city-regulated sidewalks. Perhaps you have trees in dire need of maintenance. Though this is usually the responsibility of the city, it's often neglected due to lack of resources. Are there parking lots nearby that ought to be shaded? Are there businesses that would like trees on the sidewalk in front of their buildings? Decide what you think will best benefit your neighborhood and see if others agree. Don't work on details now—the next chapter covers step-by-step planning—but get an idea of what you want to accomplish.
|Restoring the Earth
The practice of environmental restoration—putting back what was originally there—is becoming recognized as an important facet of environmental activism. Restoration can be as simple as a group of neighbors replanting a decimated hillside with native-tree species, or one family's reclamation of their own backyard with the grasses and plants that grew there before suburbia took over. On a larger scale, restoration projects have brought back tracts of forest and prairie; saved members of endangered species; and purified dirty rivers and waterways, replanted their banks with original vegetation, and restocked them with fish. Laws require corporations and developers to reverse some of the environmental damage they create, and sophisticated technology can make enormous undertakings possible. However, not all damage can be fixed, and complex ecosystems are not easily replaced. Critics warn against restoration being held out as a cure-all. A recommended book, Restoring the Earth by John J. Berger, recounts inspiring restoration success stories. See Resources for details.
Who do you want to involve? Are the residences on your street largely privately owned? Are there apartment dwellers who would welcome involvement in a communal project? Consider the role you want to play in the project. Project leader, planting supervisor, or mere visionary? If you're not clear early on, it might be difficult to get others interested.
|THE VISION PROCESS
I do it best while listening to classical music, walking, hiking, or bike riding with something to occupy the linear part of my brain.
I put on rock music and lie down and roll myself from side to side like I'm in a trance. That's when the good stuff comes to me.
I have to keep my eyes closed so that reality doesn't block the creative flow of my imagination.
It doesn't matter how you do it, but creating your vision can be the most powerful part of your entire project, and it deserves a lot of respect. If you've never taken anything past the good-idea stage, try this.
Think about the project and envision it as complete. Examine all the elements as they would be if the project were finished. Spend some time savoring those images. Now work backwards. Build a bridge back to the present. From the point of completion back, at every phase, see if you can see who is doing what and what resources or tools are being used. Without limiting yourself by wondering how you can afford it, list the kinds of people and resources you envision you'll need. As the vision unfolds, ask yourself, "How might we do that?" Limiting thoughts will come up, but don't let them stand in the way of this process.
Simply ask the question and let your imagination create answers. Notice the information you're getting. Some of it may seem easy to accomplish and some may seem crazy or preposterous. That's perfect. If it helps, make notes.
Now return to the conscious world and begin to build the bridge, in concept form, from the present reality to the envisioned completed project. Visit the site and try linking your vision with what's currently there.
Next comes the difficult, exciting part. Begin to talk with people close to you. The more you have to put your idea into words, the clearer and sharper it will become. People may challenge you or criticize or laugh at your plan. That's okay. Take the feedback, hold the comments at arm's length, and evaluate whether or not they give additional perspective or information that will ultimately help you.
Do you need to alter your plan or your communication of it so that people better understand it? Is it something that's still not solid enough for others to see? That's also fine. Remember that others—even family—can be threatened by a burst of inspiration and expression that may have them reevaluating their lives. A first response can be defensive or even offensive. Don't lose heart. Others have their own processes to go through too.
Another valuable part of sharing your idea is that often your friends and family have resources, suggestions, or energy to add. When others start holding the vision, the goal becomes much more real.
Think carefully about your commitment to follow through. Planting and caring for trees is a powerful way to make a difference in a community, but your enthusiasm will face obstacles along the way, and you need to be prepared. Keep in mind that the greater the obstacles, the more rewarding the end result!
CANVASING THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Plan on putting together a core group of committed individuals early on. Discuss your ideas with people you know. Garner their support before you bring in others you don't know. Talk to your neighbors. Give them an idea of what you'd like to accomplish. Go door to door. Introduce yourself and chat about your ideas. The goal is to get people thinking about the potential and dreaming of what the neighborhood could be. You may want to start by writing a letter to everyone on your street, making copies, and hand delivering them. The more personal the contact with people, the greater the response will be. You can put letters in mailboxes, but that's just one more piece of mail to sift through or to toss. If you hand deliver, your neighbors can attach a face to the project.
Breaking New Ground
World Watch Magazine
If you are not used to communicating in this way with strangers, selling your idea to them may seem daunting. If you're going door to door in your neighborhood, you're doing it in the best way possible—but that doesn't mean it's a pushover. Some people are very wary about opening the door to anyone they're not expecting. If they appear irritated, cautious, or downright rude, don't take it as a personal affront. You may have inadvertently taken them away from an activity that needed their concentration. Apologize, ask if you can continue or whether you should call back at another time, and move on—either with the purpose of your visit or to the next house! It's hard but necessary for you to protect yourself from being hurt by rejection. Talk to yourself under your breath on the way to the front door, shield yourself with an imaginary veil, go in pairs, meet before or after for coffee with the committee so you can blab about how it all went—whatever works. But do it. (For further information, see page 77.)
Spend time getting to know more about your neighborhood and the people who live there. Think of the places where people gather: a cafe, the laundromat, a local bank, a school, the post office, the day-care center, the park, or even a driveway down the street. Who hangs out there and who knows all the gossip? The goal is to find those people who have a hand in everything and to share your idea with them. They'll often know who to talk to and will probably help spread the word.
LET US BEGIN
Now bring together as many people as possible! Invite them over for coffee, tea, or dessert some evening, or perhaps on a Sunday afternoon.
This initial gathering can be very informal. You might consider making a map of the neighborhood so that on arrival everyone can mark down their particular residence. You can then make copies and distribute the maps. Since you've called the meeting, it's up to you to be prepared with some material, ideas, or information. If you think your project will be on public land, make a quick call to the responsible agency for an idea on how long the permit process will take. (See Chapter 3.) It will help you set a timeline if your meeting goes that route. Have a clear idea of what you'd like to see happen but stay open to suggestions. Don't have your idea so developed that no one can contribute to the creative process. Ask people to share their ideas and dreams for the neighborhood. Support them in making the project their own because, believe it or not, their support is vital to your success. If it's all your idea, then it's all your project!
Planning the Meeting
Have an agenda for your initial meeting. You may not plan to lead the whole project, but you're the one who's taken the initiative. Here's a suggested outline for a preliminary meeting.
1. When people arrive, give out name tags. It helps break down barriers.
2. Start the meeting by introducing yourself and thanking the people for coming. (Acknowledging that you need their support is a key element in helping them feel part of the project.) Let them know your purpose. Tell them when the meeting will be over and don't keep anyone longer than an hour and a half. Post your agenda on a large piece of paper or hand it out. Have everyone introduce themselves to the group. Which house is theirs? What ideas or dreams do they have for greening the neighborhood? Discourage a gripe session.
3. Acknowledge that this time, for convenience; you'll facilitate the meeting. Ultimately, you can have other people host and lead meetings, but don't push it until others show their interest, ability, or energy.
4. Begin your agenda, which might look something like the agenda at left.
5. For the What's-Possible section, it would be good to have a reference book with pictures of different tree species or a sketch of your street that highlights possible planting spots. Others can then add their ideas. If you've really done your homework, you might have some slides of your favorite trees in the neighborhood.
6. During the discussion-brainstorm, record the ideas on a posted piece of paper. Brainstorms should only focus on the positive to encourage people to feel comfortable enough to share ideas. Don't comment. Don't commit sabotage. The purpose is to emerge with possibilities and to encourage others to contribute. Brainstorming generates ideas; it does not evaluate what is realistic. Encourage people to be outrageous and to dream, as opposed to commenting on the ideas of others. What may look outrageous in this setting might be a fresh new practical solution when you come to implementation. Once ideas are recorded, go back and discuss them. Highlighting strengths helps others feel appreciated and involved. All it takes is a little insensitivity now to lose someone for the rest of the program.
7. Make it clear that, while everyone will be needed for the project, a few will have to help organize. Don't try to do it all yourself. You'll probably burn out and be discouraged forever from planting! Try recruiting one or two people to work with you on the following tasks:
- contacting the local government agency for regulations and beginning the process of getting a permit, including a list of approved trees for your street, if necessary, assuming your work will be on land that requires government approval
- contacting the neighbors who haven't yet been reached
- collecting information on trees, prices, nurseries, and other supplies
- locating tools
- planning, producing, and running additional meetings
- coordinating the planting day, the block party, and the barbecue
- organizing other volunteers, resources, and publicity
8. This group may express reservations about getting involved before they know how much time or money they'll have to devote to the project. Perhaps you'll have some sample costs to share. But even if you don't, try to steer people away from getting stuck by worrying where money, energy, or time will come from. Be prepared for their concerns by reading Chapter 3 before the meeting.
9. Establish an estimated timeline for planting.
10. Set a date and time to meet with the organizing group. If it doesn't feel like an undue amount of pressure, try creating a list of action items to accomplish by, or report on, at the next meeting.
11. Wrap up the formal part of the meeting. Create a roster of names, phone numbers, and addresses.
12. Let everyone know that you, or one of the new organizers, will be back in touch for another meeting on types of trees and so forth, unless decision making has been delegated to the organizing committee.
13. Adjourn the meeting. Be prepared to chat and munch for a while afterward, as important informal discussion is likely to take place.
|Books Are Made From Trees, Right?
In April 1986, an arsonist set fire to the Los Angeles Central Library. Once the flames were out, a rescue operation was mounted, using TreePeople's skills to coordinate the hundreds of volunteers who wanted to save the remaining books from irreversible water damage. The operation set a record for library evacuation. ARCO—headquartered opposite the library—provided a bank of phones and offices to house the telephone operators coordinating the rescue. A small bank twenty miles away happened to have a phone number one digit short of the rescue hotline. An irate bank manager called ARCO and asked for Andy Lipkis. "You'd better send someone down here right now to handle this mess! We're getting calls from people who want to volunteer at the library and it's interfering with our work!" Andy explained that the library fire was interfering with TreePeople's work too and ARCO's and most of all the library's. He suggested the bank become a part of the rescue team and assign a staffer to give phone instructions. There was an almost audible shift in the manager's attitude. He got the point and began to give, instead of complain.
The process doesn't have to be this organized, but it helps when you are hosting a lot of interested people. An additional step would be to ask someone from a local tree group, or your city's urban forester, to speak to your gathering.
After the Meeting
After your first meeting, move quickly to obtain results. Collect information vital to the project or establish contacts in city agencies. The faster you move, the better. People need to see progress. On your roster, make a note of those who expressed interest in the project, those who offered to plant, and those who are part of the organizing committee. Stay in touch!
Be aware of the vast resources at your fingertips. Your neighbors are a primary resource. By offering them a chance to put their skills to work, you let them know how valuable they are to the effort. Neighborhood groups you're not working with directly may nevertheless be helpful when it comes to specific tasks.
If you followed our advice, you checked out what community organizations already exist in your neighborhood. Don't overlook your city-council representative or county supervisor. It's their job to facilitate community activity. Call their offices. Not only can they help you contact existing organizations but they can often facilitate your work with government agencies and the consequent red tape!
If you don't know who your elected officials are, your local public library will probably carry a Public Officials Roster with this information. Newspapers and flyers may also provide leads. Don't forget to ask your friends and neighbors for suggestions.
We suggest you call the offices of your state attorney general for further information on incorporating as a nonprofit if that's what you think you'll eventually want to do. States will vary in their requirements, but most have literature to help you establish yourself. The Internal Revenue Service is another good source of information on the laws, policies, and standards regarding fundraising.
For further support, many states also have organizations that may offer classes or provide information on establishing a nonprofit, including grant writing. For example, the Foundation Center in New York has information on the types of grants available and how to seek funding—both private and public. For information, see listing in Resources.
|WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Each week in the world, a forest the size of London disappears. Hence was founded the organization called The Forest of London after a fortuitous visit by Andy and Katie Lipkis in 1984. Crann, an organization created to replant the hardwoods of Ireland, took its name from the Gaelic word for tree. Andy Lipkis founded the California Conservation Project in 1973 because, as a long-haired, bearded teenager, he wanted an official-sounding name, but the public insisted on calling the group "the tree people." The worldwide Men of the Trees, founded by Richard St. Barbe Baker, was the name he gave to the volunteers from a tribe of Kenyan dancing warriors he creatively enlisted in 1920 for a reforestation campaign. The title, Global ReLeaf, a project of the American Forestry Association, was derived from a poster entitled "Urban Releaf," created by Doyle, Dane, Bernbach for TreePeople's Million Tree Campaign in 1982. Whatever your project, there's a perfect name. Sit with your vision long enough, and your name will come to you!
Later on, if you get bitten by this bug, you may be asked to make presentations to groups interested in tree planting or maintenance. Your purpose will be to provide information, direction, and in some cases to assist others in organizing their project. Improving your speaking skills will also help you more eloquently lead planting and maintenance demonstrations, recruit volunteers, and raise money.
We've all heard speakers who read their presentation in a dull, monotonous tone. The fear of speaking should be the fear of being boring! You have the basic natural skills for speaking. The trick is developing fluency. The first step is to visualize yourself speaking the way you'd like to. Believing you can do it makes a difference. Joining an organization like Toastmasters, which helps improve public speaking skills, can be helpful. Meanwhile, this section can set you on the right path.
In preparing your speech, be clear about your purpose. What would you like to come out of the talk? Know your audience's interests and the kind of support they'll require. If possible, ask the contact person in advance. If you feel comfortable, invite questions of the group before you speak, so you can address their concerns in your presentation. Write the questions or pointers on a chalkboard if one is available.
Preparation will give you confidence. Have an outline in big type or reference cards as reminders of important points. It's better to speak from your heart and talk about what you know. Don't lecture. Interact with the group. Encourage them in their strengths and work with them through their weaknesses.
Give a brief introduction before you cover your main topics, then offer a conclusion. In the introduction, give a preview of the subjects so the audience will be able to follow your thoughts. Your main topics should stem from your assessment of the group. In the conclusion, it is helpful to give a summary of what you have talked about and to include suggestions for action.
In general, assume the group knows nothing about the topics you're covering. Give explanations of terms you use, such as greenhouse effect or sucker growth. Try to relate stories or anecdotes that illustrate your experience with tree projects.
- Dress appropriately for the group and the setting. If everyone will be in business suits, dress professionally. If people are casual, your attire can be more relaxed. When in doubt, dress up rather than down. If they can accept you at first glance, they will listen to what you say.
- Thank the group for inviting you and for their interest.
- Tell about your involvement in tree projects and experiences.
- Use visual aids—anything from a seedling or shovel to pictures or a brochure.
- Take time to collect your thoughts before you get up to speak. Review your notes, take some deep breaths, remember why you're there and what you want to accomplish.
- The audience is hungry for information but will not bite! Be yourself. Relax. If you're nervous, turn it around and use the energy. Just don't get nervous about being nervous. Accept it. Have fun. You can even tell people you're nervous.
- It's okay not to know every answer. Refer people to a source such as your local tree group if you have one or other pertinent organizations, or offer to find out and then get back to them.
- Many public speakers practice in front of a mirror to observe their body language. If you gesture too much, it may be distracting. If you don't move at all, it can be boring. Also, listening to yourself on a tape can increase your awareness of tone and rate of speaking. If you have access to a video camera, so much the better!
- Speak to the person in the back of the room and everyone will hear you.
- Eye contact is very important, especially in small groups. Try to speak to each individual using your eyes to make a connection. As a speaker, you'll develop your own unique speaking style. Concise and accurate information is the key to being an effective speaker regardless of your personal style.
ROOTS IN ECOLOGY-Andy Lipkis with a few of the 8,000 smog-resistant trees he plans on replanting.
BY MICHAEL SEIZER
Andy Lipkis, a l9-year-old college freshman very much into ecology, had this idea a couple of years ago: The trees in the San Bernardino National Forest are dying from the smog that drifts east out of Los Angeles, so find some smog-resistant trees and replant them there.
After all, Lipkis thought, the experts say the forest in the Big Bear-Lake Arrowhead-Barton Flats area could be dead in as little as 20 years if nothing is done.
A pure case for a bit of individual initiative, right? One young man could get the ecological bandwagon rolling.
It wasn't quite that easy. There were some complications along the way. Like the bureaucracy of the California Division of Forestry.
Lipkis discovered a few months ago that the division had 20,000 smog-resistant Sierra redwoods and sugar pines, all under a year old, growing in its tree nursery up near Davis.
Andy told the forestry people his plan. They said that it was a nice idea, but rules are rules and the division does not give its baby trees away. If they're not sold they're plowed under.
They cost two and one-half cents per tree and Andy wanted all 20,000 trees.
Tight Student Budget
Which is more money than a kid on a tight student budget can handle.
He went to a few of the bigger corporations that talk a good ecology game. But Andy, an environmental studies major at Cal State Sonoma, had no luck in coming up with the $500 needed to buy the trees.
And while he was making the rounds, time was slipping away.
"They (the forest division administrators) said I had to get the money by March 16 or they'd kill the trees," Andy said.
"They were going to plow them under to replant . . ."
The more comfortable you are with the facts and information you are delivering, the easier it will be for you to refine your presentation. A technique to use for subjects you are not familiar with is to learn the material from a brochure or article, even memorize it, then begin saying it your own way. The more practice you have, the more readily words will come to you.
Every presentation is a practice for the next one, so make notes to yourself. What worked? What didn't? How could you do it better? You can be your own best critic. Your speaking skills will improve quickly if you take the opportunity to evaluate yourself in a constructive way and then practice.
Citizen Foresters need to communicate to groups at various levels. Whether you are speaking to a group formally or informally, doing a demonstration, or just answering questions, people will look to you for leadership. Interaction requires listening as well as speaking. Listening is a first step to being listened to.
If you're interested in your topic, your audience probably will be too. Think of what inspires you and speak from that perspective. Speaking is sharing information, knowledge, and experience. People relate to what you're saying if you're both excited and focused.
If you lose your train of thought, pause. If you don't remember something, move on and come back to it. When people look restless, suggest a stretch break or ask a question. You are in charge of your presentation. Keep believing. Good luck!