Model Blocks Weatherization Program
Building Blocks is an award-winning collaborative program developed to regenerate social capital in Kalamazoo’s low- and low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. For over ten years, the program has been part of Dr. Kim Cummings’s Sociology 224 course.
Building Blocks’ mission centers on the creation and sustaining of networks of residents able to work together to promote the wellbeing of both their individual street and the larger neighborhood. Our strategic vision is to use physical improvement projects as a vehicle to forge social capital, especially linking residents from diverse backgrounds. Building Blocks (BB) targets the Eastside, Edison, Fairmont, Oakwood, Stuart, and Vine neighborhoods, each of which identifies one or more potential “target areas” and assumes final responsibility for the projects’ success.
Each of BB’s ten target sites anticipated for spring 2008 will receive grants to jumpstart the community-building process. An association-appointed resident supervises all phases of the unfolding project, and funds go to direct project expenses such as paint, landscape timbers, gravel, and food for volunteers that is not otherwise provided by neighbors. Three seminar-based Kalamazoo College students typically join the organizing team. Their first task is to recruit all interested residents (as well as absentee owners) from the 2-3 blocks that make up the target area. The organizing team then facilitates resident planning meetings (attendance of two meetings is required of participants), where residents get to know each other, plan and estimate costs for their individual projects, and start talking about the needs of the target site as a whole. By the third or fourth meeting the residents themselves, within broad program parameters, allocate funds, usually maintaining some rough equity between households. Following the model of traditional barn-raising, local residents (supplemented by volunteers from the wider community) work on each others’ homes over 2-3 weekends in May (a minimum of two collectively workdays are required, but four to six workdays are more typical). By the end of the project residents come to appreciate each other’s strengths/assets, realize that many of their concerns are shared by neighbors, and enjoy new connections with their neighborhood association. Seen in broad perspective, BB thus enables neighborhood associations to extend organizing activities to the level of individual streets. If a high quality of life is to be secured, it is here that the potential for community must be actualized and inevitable problems must be dealt with. By extending their grassroots activities with low-income homeowners, many of them new to the neighborhood, associations also generate critically needed leaders and linkages to diverse demographic groups.