• Reba Hsu

Seeding Civity: An Update From Redwood City

Updated: May 22, 2019

Our Seeding Civity initiative is off to the races in our first partner community: Redwood City – home to around 86,000 residents and located 27 miles south of San Francisco. Redwood City’s diverse population and changing demographics create ideal opportunities for Civity-building. Like many cities in Silicon Valley, Redwood City is a changing community. The city is working to navigate demographic transition and equity issues resulting, in part, from new redevelopment and an increasing lack of affordable housing.

Our collaboration with Redwood City began last year when Alex Khojikian – Redwood City’s Deputy City Manager and community connector extraordinaire – invited us to support grassroots community building there. The city has a demonstrable commitment to inclusive community: community building is in its DNA. In 2017, Redwood City became one of California’s first two “Welcoming Cities” – a national designation from Welcoming America, which honors communities promoting inclusiveness, cooperation, and mutual respect for all.

The changes in Redwood City make finding ways to build a more inclusive understanding within the community about who belongs increasingly important. Working toward this goal, we’ve begun working with Alex and with leaders of Redwood City’s neighborhood associations. Reinvigorating the neighborhood associations is one of the city’s top-priority community engagement strategies; city leaders want to create a “small town feel” at the neighborhood level, and they recently expanded the number of associations from 11 to 17 to reflect changing community needs.

The City invited Civity to join the Neighborhood Association Leaders group’s first meeting of 2018 this past February. After giving a brief presentation on the Civity approach and research informing our work, Civity led the group through a few exercises, giving them the opportunity to practice using conversation as a way to more intentionally explore differences in a respectful and authentic way. The meeting closed with a group discussion of how the neighborhood leaders could adapt this training to their own neighborhoods and how Civity can support that community-building work going forward. We also asked the leaders to fill out brief surveys to get a better sense of their individual needs.

Since then, we’ve continued to connect with individual leaders. We were invited to run Civity exercises at meetings in the neighborhoods of Redwood Village and Canyon (Canyon’s very first neighborhood association meeting). In both meetings, we talked about the importance of being respectful across differences in community building, and then asked folks to alternately practice storytelling and listening with a neighbor they didn’t know using the guidance of a specific prompt, such as “Tell a story about yourself and your connection to the neighborhood.” The exercises visibly heightened the energy in the meetings – it was great to see people connecting with each other in a new way!

Alex Khojikian expressed why he thinks this work is important, and why it’s a priority for the city (watch our video interview with Alex):

Building relationships is key to grassroots community building. In the city of Redwood City, we are on the ground floor of neighborhood community building – Neighbors connecting with neighbors house by house, block by block, and street by street. The work that we're doing here in Redwood City aligns with what Civity brings to the table, because at the core foundation of all this work is grassroots community building. To me, Civity is about connecting people and building the community fabric. Residents that might have never had a conversation are proactively connecting with one another on a human level. Many residents find out that they have things in common with their neighbors. They might also find out that they have differences, but we encourage them to celebrate those differences. It's OK if people have different perspectives. Being able to engage and have great dialogue and connect on a human level – that’s transformative.

Looking ahead, we’re continuing to identify opportunities for Civity to support intentional, authentic relationship-building through the neighborhood associations, as well other opportunities for supporting grassroots community leaders in Redwood City. We’re exploring possibilities to support community engagement efforts ranging from Our Community: Housing and Our Future – a city-wide initiative that involves both engaging the community in a series of dialogues around affordable housing – to the community engagement efforts of, the nonprofit arm of Box (one of Redwood City’s largest employers), to Human Library community conversation programs at Redwood City public libraries.

If you live or work in Redwood City and are interested in supporting people in your network to connect with people who are different from them, please get in touch!

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