shelbyMy job at Lancaster City Alliance allows me the opportunity to build relationships across a broad range of stakeholders in Lancaster.

Often when I take a walk over lunch to run errands, I am inspired by interactions with my network of friends, peers and acquaintances.

A few weeks back, I ran into the city police station to grab some parking signs for an event we were hosting. On my way out, I ran into a friend who is a city neighbor and works downtown.

We chatted for a few minutes, and she asked if I had read a Facebook post from a neighbor about her experience adjusting to the neighborhood.

I hadn’t, but thanks to Lancaster’s 2 degrees of separation reduced to 0.5 degrees by Facebook, I was connected to the author of the post and able to read it.

Amber talked about how some streets near her home in the city’s southwest are considered poor and dangerous by broader society. Because of that she was afraid and wondered how she could “fix” them.

As she got to know her neighbors, not only was she no longer afraid, but she began to see the neighborhood through a new lens, not the one her life experiences conditioned her to expect.

She talked about how many of the streets that people avoid are her favorite streets, and how the kindest people are there. She closed by reminding us all to get to know the people we want to “help,” and that projecting our needs and wants onto them will not facilitate genuine community change.

While I had never met this woman, her honesty and genuine and growing appreciation for her neighborhood forced me to think about how we approach neighborhood revitalization at the Lancaster City Alliance. I was challenged to revisit our strategy for communicating with and empowering neighbors.

In neighborhoods that have a poor and declining image, it is very tempting to get pulled into a cycle of talking about the neighborhood’s problems and how we and others are working on fixing them. We get distracted and fail to recognize the assets, talented people and creative opportunities that exist in neighborhoods with room to grow and welcome new stakeholders.

The current neighborhood revitalization momentum in all quadrants of our city presents us with an exciting opportunity to reframe how we want to define our neighborhoods and the image with which they want to align.

In order to do this, those of us charged with community development must be mindful of getting to know the people in the neighborhood — not just those who attend meetings and post on neighborhood Facebook pages.

We need people like Amber, who live in the neighborhood, walk the streets, offer help and accept help from neighbors. They can extract the core values that make each neighborhood unique and special.

Another wise neighbor (shoutout to Mara Anderson on North Pine Street) once told me that her definition of a healthy block was one where if a neighbor needed help, neighbors could knock on any door and be confident that someone would open it.

Creating this type of neighborhood culture is not new thinking. But it takes courage, humility and patience to open lines of communication in diverse neighborhoods that from the outside seem scary, lonely and unkind.

Thanks to Amber, I have renewed confidence in the basics of relationship building, fellowship and facilitating community development by focusing on and encouraging small but meaningful ways of connecting neighbors.

These include good neighbor awards, block parties, meet-your-neighbor stories, adopt-a-block initiatives, the walking school bus, park cleanup and neighborhood beautification days.

These inexpensive and inclusive gestures are the key to building trust, breaking down barriers, and creating diverse and friendly neighborhoods.

Who’s in?

• Shelby Nauman is vice president of neighborhoods for the Lancaster City Alliance.

Read the full article on LancasterOnline.