“Free coffee for your thoughts,” the sign in pale lettering just off a McDonnel St. sidewalk read. It was a drizzly Friday morning in mid-August. Sheltered by a pop-up tent, three pre-teen boys filled paper cups with steaming hot liquid while talking with the two people standing behind a table covered in an assortment of papers, coloured markers and other paraphernalia.
A closer inspection revealed the invitation was not to share just any thoughts (though it’s likely the two friendly-looking faces overseeing the table would have been open to that if asked.) However, the notions they were most keen to hear were those related to people’s experiences and perceptions of the surrounding neighbourhood—the area between Charlotte St. and McDonnel St., and between Park St. and Bethune St.
“We’re asking for people’s experience and perception of public space in the neighbourhood,” one of the two behind the table, Laura Keresztesi, told a woman who had just ducked her head under the tent. “(We want to hear about) places that you love, places that you see opportunity for improvement.”
The invitation was not necessarily to just stand there and expound—though one could do that. However, people could also choose other fun and creative ways to share—by poking pins into a scale model of the neighbourhood, for example.
“We’re asking people to put in pins based on where you live or where you gather, where you shop or work or feel proud of or afraid of,” Laura told the woman. “We’d be happy if you got into that. You can put in as many pins as you want.”
A further conversation with Laura revealed that the pop-up thought-gathering project on McDonnel St. is the latest iteration of a larger project called NeighbourPLAN.
Organized by the well-respected environmental sustainability advocate, GreenUP, the primary intent of NeighbourPLAN is to provide the residents of three neighbourhoods in Peterborough with the tools, confidence, relationships, and language necessary to help shape certain aspects of their neighbourhoods, including the built environment.
“There is a lot of opportunity through neighbours connecting with each other and realizing their shared concerns and shared values and vision for the neighbourhood and then just working together to push the vision forward,” said Laura, who is the NeighbourPLAN co-ordinator.
Future activities should also help realize that intent. Laura hopes residents will be open to monthly gatherings to which anyone can pop in and listen, ask questions, share ideas or offer support. An initial meeting took place that same night. Laura notes the discussion included setting a regular meeting schedule, planning some upcoming activities, and completing a fun visioning exercise. “We asked people to identify good things that currently exist in their neighbourhood and then list dreams/hopes for the future of their neighbourhood.”
The neighbourhood should also soon see groups of people taking empathy walks—intentional walks from the perspective of someone who has a disability, such as low vision, blindness or one that requires mobility support.
The pop-up event was just step one in the NeighbourPLAN project for the Downtown Jackson Creek area—a friendly, simple way to start an important neighbourhood conversation that could have more far-reaching implications that anyone can imagine now.
The rain came down more heavily even as people continued to stop by, enticed by the free coffee—or the prospect of a set of listening ears—or both.
“Thank you for doing this!” one woman exclaimed as she stepped towards the tent. And she hadn’t even received the coffee or shared her thoughts.
To learn more about NeighbourPLAN, click here.
Photos by Michelle Strutzenberger
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