The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking: Review


Jay Walljasper, former editor of the Utne Reader, focuses on ways to create community.

City planners and big developers are not the only ones who can transform a community. One man did it by installing a bench on the corner of his property for passers-by to sit. This man’s success story is one of many included in The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking by the former editor of the Utne Reader, Jay Walljasper, along with the Project For Public Spaces, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities “develop public spaces that are well-used and safe, and that become catalysts for boosting the economic and social vitality of the community as a whole.”

The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking by Jay Walljasper and Project For Public Spaces (New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: 2007) 175 pp.

Many of the ideas will be well-known to local activists who have been hard at work trying to make a difference in their neighborhoods for some time. But for the person wondering what to do or where to start, it’s a gold-mine.

Walljasper recommends starting small. Beautification can begin by planting petunias. It sounds simplistic, “But flowers do more than please the eye. They can lift a community’s spirit and provide tangible proof that things are looking up,” writes Walljasper.

The Great Neighborhood Book includes plenty of project ideas but its heart is where what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood – the neighbors themselves. Busy life-styles and long commutes can disconnect people from their neighbors, creating a kind of poverty that has little to do with money. Walljasper encourages getting out into the community for after-dinner strolls, walking the dog and hanging out at a local eatery or tavern on a regular basis to make connections with people who share the same sidewalks, streets and parks. If there isn’t a great place to hangout, Walljasper offers simple suggestions on how to create such places.

There is a chapter on promoting safety, a chapter on taming traffic and even a chapter on “Getting Things Done” that includes various ways to deal with municipal officials such as: “Fight city hall; Work with city hall; Take over from city hall; and Forget city hall.”
There is relevant resource information at the end of each section of every chapter for further research.

I am inspired to add another good community-building idea: start by organizing a neighborhood book club and read this book to jump-start some “placemaking.”