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6 Ways to Get Involved in Your Neighborhood

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Photo by Paul Body

By Stephanie Thompson

1. Install a Little Free Library in your neighborhood.

6 Ways to Get Involved in Your Neighborhood

6 Ways to Get Involved in Your Neighborhood


Anyone can build or purchase a Little Free Library and install it on their own property, as long as it doesn’t encroach on the public right-of-way. If the site is in a park, canyon, or trail, you’ll need permission from the City’s Park & Recreation Department. On a city sidewalk, you might need a Site Development Permit or Neighborhood Development Permit from the Development Services department. You might also need to obtain a Right of Entry permit. The website provides a complete package with instructions, building plans, official registration (which gets your library on their worldwide map), resources like stickers and bookmarks, and tips for making your Little Free Library a success. You can either use one of their designs or come up with your own creative structure.

I installed Little Free Library No. 20744 on the hillside just north of our house, on the property of a neighbor who had gladly given us permission. It gets a lot of pedestrian and car traffic. The response from our neighbors was instantaneous; they were delighted. They promised to keep it well stocked and busy. The library was immediately filled with donations, and more have arrived since. Every day, books are taken and left, and nothing makes me happier than restocking the shelves, chatting with borrowers, and seeing what goodies have been donated.

2. Throw a block party or a Fourth of July parade.

You’ll have to get to know your neighbors to pull this off, so start knocking on doors. Go to to apply for the permits you’ll need. Send a sign-up sheet around the neighborhood to determine who’ll lend a grill and tables and chairs, and make it a potluck. For a parade, once you have the time and starting address determined, invite your local fire station or police department to join in. They’ll often send a fire truck or black-and-white to bring up the rear. Put up flyers along the parade route a few days before to be sure the neighborhood turns out to wave and clap as you go by.

3. Join your local community planning board.

The City of San Diego website has a list of contacts for all the city’s planning committees, those citizens’ advisory groups that make recommendations to the City Planning Department on everything from parking and new development to signage and public parks. You have to reside, own property, or own a business within the boundaries of the group. Then you’ll be asked to attend three out of the 12 meetings they hold prior to their elections (usually once a year). Beyond that, each group has its own by-laws and procedures, but Leo Wikstrom of Uptown Planners says the first step should be to attend a planning meeting in your area and see if you like it: “People often think being on a planning committee is going to be a lot of fun, and it is, but it does require commitment and some work.” Still, there’s no better way to really get to know your community and do your part to improve it.

4. Plan a canyon cleanup.

We all know about beach cleanups, but if you don’t live on the coast, you’re probably near a canyon—and they need cleaning up too. Groups like San Diego Canyonlands and I Love A Clean San Diego can help you organize an event. It’s a great way to meet neighbors, learn more about the nature spots right in your backyard, and do good for the environment, all at the same time.

5. Get a neighborhood sign installed.

Be prepared to cut through lots of red tape, and bring together diverse groups like local merchants, city government, planning groups, and private donors. Depending on the location, source of funding, and so on, it could even take up to 15 years, as real estate agent and former Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce president Carlton Lund found out when he decided back in 2000 that Carlsbad really needed its own sign. After many ups and downs, his perseverance paid off, and once a private donor was identified and the local government approved the project, the new Carlsbad sign became a reality and was dedicated earlier this year.

6. Start a trail-building day.

If you’re a trail runner, hiker, mountain biker, or horseback rider who uses your local park trails, consider organizing an event to help maintain the environment that brings you so much recreational pleasure. Running and biking clubs often help plan these, or you can contact the city of San Diego’s Parks & Recreation Department Volunteer Coordinator for specific needs in your area.

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6 Ways to Get Involved in Your Neighborhood

Photo by Paul Body

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