The Art of Building Community


What is neighborhood? Generally, the term means a “community of people who live close together.” Seems simple enough, but it really means more than that. It is the people you run into on a regular basis – at the grocery store, school, church, recreation center, and more. The longer you live in an area, the more likely your closest friends live nearby. It becomes home.

But…what if things change? Then what?

This post is the first in a series exploring “The Art of Building Community”, or in marketing terms, building engagement. I will explore the process of rebuilding a neighborhood association known as Redwood Heights Neighborhood Association, in Oakland, California.

To give you some background, the development of the Redwood Heights area began in the 1930s, and its neighborhood association incorporated in 1944. Of course, over time, the neighborhood transformed numerous times. Not only have the buildings and houses changed, but it also went from an exclusively European-American community to one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country. This, plus some seriously awesome weather, and its scenic location, makes it an amazing place to live!

…”populations are fluid, ebbing and flowing with the local economy, with gentrification (or its opposite), with the informal handing off of neighborhoods to different immigrant, ethnic, or racial groups” –

Recently, however, the community ebbed, but differently than in the past. The intersection of the financial crisis and Web 2.0 changed the way people interacted. Because of the financial crisis, people pulled back socially, and yet the changing online environment allowed them to feel engaged without the need to meet or speak with others directly. When organizations struggle to effectively engage (using the appropriate channels) with their customers, they lose ground. In this case, understandably, people were more concerned about their personal situations during the financial crisis, but more importantly, the association lost momentum and was unable to adapt to the changing environment. For this community, the combination affected participation in neighborhood association events.

Today, the neighborhood is recovering nicely. Unfortunately, when new families move into the neighborhood, often times they have no awareness of the association, and existing residents have not heard much about it lately, so enthusiasm is limited. Thus, it is time to reboot the association!

Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit

Thankfully, in lieu of folding, the Board of Directors reached out to the community for help to make the association valued once again. I am happy I heard them. After a little persuasion, I am now a Co-President. I enjoy leading people, plus my work experience and involvement on other boards (where I held positions such as President, Programs Director, and Communications Director) equipped me to take on this reboot effort. So, like the Hobbitt…Only thing to do! On we go!

I like to think of this process akin to a start-up – the association board has an idea of what it wants to do; now, it just needs to figure out how to make it happen! Bottom line, it needs to learn how to best engage the community.

Please join me on this reinvention adventure; it will include branding, marketing, social media, event planning, and more. I would love to hear from you what your neighborhood does to build community engagement!

To learn more about the Redwood Heights Neighborhood Association, please visit

The Art of Building Community

Next: Getting Started