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The Neighborhood Playbook: A Community Manual – Kevin Wright & Joe Nickol (POY 40)

Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol wrote The Neighborhood Playbook to unite community developers and everyone else around common goals, starting in Cincinnati.

Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol wrote The Neighborhood Playbook to unite community developers and everyone else around common goals, starting in Cincinnati.

About The Neighborhood Playbook

Take a moment to think about the neighborhood you live in. Maybe you like where you live pretty well, or maybe you just tolerate it. Maybe you don’t like it at all and would rather live anywhere else. Whose responsibility should it be to make the neighborhood better?

Kevin Wright and Joe Nickol, two community development professionals from Cincinnati, Ohio, believe everyone should play a part, including regular folks like you and me. They wrote a field manual called The Neighborhood Playbook to guide developers and residents alike toward a common development model, which they divided into five steps or “plays.”

The first exercise in the book is a goal-setting exercise, where you define something you want to do in your community. It can be smaller, like “build more public benches,” or something larger like “bring a restaurant to my block.” You wouldn’t necessarily have to start a business or own the thing yourself if you can find someone else to do it. From there:

  • Play 1 is “Pick a Space,” with guidance on how to pick a location you can imagine people visiting.
  • Play 2 is “Pick an Amenity,” or deciding the use of the space that would best accommodate the people you have in mind. This can get pretty deep, depending on size and budget, but the important part here is finding other community members who will get on board.
  • Play 3 is “Broadcasting,” with lots of tips on generating buzz and on hosting events for the new place.
  • Play 4 is a reflective phase, “Rethink, Evolve, Repeat,” where adjust the project based on what’s happened so far.
  • Play 5 is “Develop,” where you use the success of this amenity to restart the play cycle around another amenity.

Kevin and Joe believe this is the best way to build demand and quality-of-life in our communities.

The playbook is basically two books combined into one, like the shape of an uppercase letter N. Kevin and Joe wrote one side with the five plays and tips for developers, and then the same five plays on the other side with tips for the rest of us. The idea is that readers from both sides will meet in the middle. In that sense, Joe likes to think of the playbook as an empathy tool.

The trick to this approach to put our complaints about our communities aside and look for potential assets, which are always going to be based on the people who live there and the physical features.

The Neighborhood Playbook is unique in that it's two books printed as one.
The Neighborhood Playbook is unique in that it’s two books printed as one. (Via)

Now what?

Homework for you

What I’ve learned from Kevin and Joe is that community development doesn’t have to be this enormous, out-of-reach process that we sometimes imagine it to be. There are certainly caveats, and we have to be willing to let go of our own ideas and compromise sometimes to see them grow. At least we have the steps now to get out and start something new.

If you’d like to get involved in community development where you live, here’s are a couple of solutions to keep in mind.

  1. Check out for some inspiration related to the five plays. Again, those were “Pick a Place,” “Pick an Amenity,” “Broadcast,” “Rethink, Evolve, and Repeat,” and “Develop.”
  2. Don’t ever feel like your idea wouldn’t be a good fit for your neighborhood or your community without asking first. If you’ve thought about changing something in your neighborhood, talk with the people who live near you, especially your neighbors. Run it by everybody. The important thing is to try, even if you don’t feel like an expert. Who knows: that idea you’re sitting on may be the one to reinvigorate demand in your part of the world.

Further reading

What Do You Think?

I’d love to talk about your thoughts on this story or anything you’d like to share. Please email me below, leave a comment or message on Facebook, or tweet me @pluralofyou.

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