No Plot is Too Small: A Community's Guide to Restoring Public Landscapes

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Chapter 2. Building Momentum and Attracting Participants

Now that you have a vision for restoring the site, just how do you encourage others to get involved? Before approaching others, you need a clear understanding of what it is that you want to achieve and why. This vision should be specific enough that they can readily understand what you have in mind but broad enough that there is lots of room for them to inject their own creative ideas. As you begin to develop your goals, recognize that they will grow and evolve as other people become involved.

Sample Goals
  • increasing the diversity of plants along a valley corridor or urban greenway

  • improving habitat for local wildlife

  • establishing a wildflower meadow

  • cleaning up and restoring a local creek

  • stabilizing an eroding hillside

  • commemorating the site's historical uses with a plaque or interpretive sign

Preliminary Outreach -Testing the Waters

Before you gather people for an initial meeting, seek preliminary feedback from the individuals and organizations you think will have an interest in the project and whose support will be needed to help make your idea become a reality. Ask these people to join a preliminary organizing committee and invite anyone else who shares your enthusiasm.

The first task of the committee is to host an introductory meeting for the larger community. The purpose of this meeting is to introduce the site, discuss the ways in which it can be improved and build support for the idea. There are several people you may want to consult at this initial stage, before your first meeting.

Municipal Councillors

Obtaining the support of your local councillor will go a long way in helping your group plan and implement its vision. The councillor will have thorough knowledge of the community and can give you advice about who else you need to talk to. Your councillor may also have a good understanding of the area's history and can let you know if other groups have carried out similar naturalization projects.

The Municipal Councillor As an Ally: A Case Study

As a first step, the Dufferin Grove Community Project in Toronto, Ontario, met with the local councillor to present their ideas and receive feedback. The project's coordinator, Rollo Meyers, explains the benefits of this early consultation:

"The meeting helped to secure political support in the early stages and contributed to a cooperative working relationship. This support was helpful when it came time to deal with city staff to get the necessary permission and approvals. Because of the councillor's familiarity with the neighbourhood, he was able to identify which parts of the project were likely to cause concern among the residents. This permitted us to address these concerns early on and avoid potential conflicts down the road."

The Land Owner

Find out who owns the site. Obviously, obtaining the owner's support at every step of the project is crucial to its success. Within urban areas, it is typically (but not always) the local or regional municipality that owns parklands and other public open spaces. If the site is owned by the municipality, Parks or Planning department staff will be able to tell you what type of uses are permitted and if there are any future plans for the area. Think of the municipality as a key partner, enabling the sharing of information, staff resources and, in some cases, financial and in-kind support.

If the land is not owned by the municipality, staff at the local property tax assessment office can tell you who does own it. Examples of private open spaces that may be appropriate for a community naturalization project include corporate or industrial lands, abandoned railway lines and utility corridors, such as gas lines and hydro fields.

Should your project take place on private lands, find out if there are any restrictions on when the site can be accessed. It will be difficult to instill a sense of community stewardship if public access to the site is limited, and too many restrictions will also make it difficult to carry out the maintenance work that is necessary over the long-term.

Approval Agencies and Authorities

Depending on the scope of your project, you may need permits and approvals from various government agencies before you start. Staff from these offices will be able to give you some preliminary guidance by identifying potential concerns and issues you should be aware of. Chapter 4 discusses some of the agencies that you should contact.

Adjacent Residents and Businesses

You should also present your ideas to those who live, work or own land near the site. This provides you with an opportunity to introduce the project early on and address any questions or concerns they may have.

Planning the Introductory Meeting

Once you have completed some initial outreach to the key players in your community, it's time to bring people to bring people together to brainstorm about how the site can be improved and to identify how people would like to participate. Template 1 provides a survey for gathering this information.

Key People to Invite to an Introductory Meeting
  • community residents

  • the owner of the land (the public agency and/or other)

  • owners of adjacent lands

  • municipal departments, such as Parks, Planning, Public Works and Health

  • municipal councillors and other elected officials

  • local naturalist and conservation groups

  • community groups and neighbourhood associations

  • provincial and federal government agencies involved in land use, resource management and the environment

  • community and health centres in your neighbourhood

  • recreational organizations and sports clubs

  • staff and students of nearby schools

  • local service organizations (such as the Lions Club and the Rotary Club)

Tools for a Polished Presentation

The golden rule of an effective presentation is Know your audience. Try to foresee any questions or concerns that they may have. What will motivate your audience to participate? How much information is relevant to them? Understanding their concerns will enable you to address them early on, increasing the likelihood of gaining their trust and support.

As part of your presentation, provide a brief overview of the natural and social history of your area. In order to address how the project fits into the larger cultural landscape and bioregion in which it is located, you may wish to consider questions such as:

Tips for Conducting a Productive Meeting
  • Start and finish on time and set time limits to discuss each agenda item.

  • Explain the ground rules of the meeting and make sure that everyone agrees on them.

  • Restate clearly any decisions that are made and have them recorded.

  • Record action steps, including the name of the person responsible for completing the task and the time frame. Distribute these in the minutes.

Good visuals at the introductory meeting will help build enthusiasm. Consider using these tools to inspire your audience:

  • a short video or slide presentation that shows other community naturalization projects

  • before and after shots of other projects, which show the dramatic transformations that are possible

  • a one-page project summary

Getting the Word Out: A Communication Tool Kit

Getting the word out should happen at all stages of your project to help attract more volunteers, obtain in-kind and cash support, gather more input into the design of the site and understand concerns that the community may have.

The most reliable way of promoting a project is through word of mouth. People more readily gravitate toward initiatives they hear about through friends, neighbours and colleagues. As the word spreads, support for your project will steadily build. And best of all, word of mouth is free!

Low-Cost Ideas for Getting - and Keeping - Your Project in the Public Eye.

Tips for Writing an Effective Press Release

Press releases are an effective way to communicate information about a recent development or to announce an event and invite the press to cover it.

  1. Use a headline that immediately conveys why the news is important.

  2. Emphasize in the opening paragraph why the story is of interest to the community.

  3. Provide details in the second paragraph to develop the ideas presented in the opening paragraph.

  4. Include quotes and statistics in the third paragraph and background information in the fourth and fifth.

  5. Avoid the use of jargon.

  6. Provide the name and telephone number of a project contact who is readily available to answer questions.

  7. Keep the press release short. It should be no longer than one page.

  8. Identify and try to build a relationship with the most appropriate media contacts in your community. Send your press release to your contacts and follow up with a phone call the next day.

Additional Resources from Evergreen

To help you promote and build support for your project, Evergreen has developed several unique resources that highlight the benefits of community naturalization. Ground Work: Investigating the Need for Nature in the City is a report that examines the environmental, social and economic benefits of restoring healthy landscapes. The Common Grounds video A Celebration of Canadian Community Naturalization Initiatives profiles the many ways that five Canadian cities benefited from restoring degraded public spaces. To find out more about these and other Evergreen resources, browse the Web site, or contact us

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