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Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

Last month, more than 42 people died in New York City from civilian violence…from street fights that involved flashing knives and smoking guns, that ended in unnecessary, unreported, and un-protested deaths.

Also over the past month, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets calling for state and city leaders to massively reduce the amount of money that goes to local police departments. The reasoning is that more of that money could go instead to improving social services within the communities that are experiencing this violence. …


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Governor Andrew Cuomo | AFP via Getty Images

In his press conference this past Sunday, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined a basic skeleton for reopening the state. While he and many other governors are pressing Washington for billions in federal aid, Cuomo is also appealing to citizens for creativity in “Reimagining New York.” This collaborative mindset is one characteristic of localism done well.

It’s often assumed that localism means communities should “go it alone,” resisting any and all government or outsider involvement. But Cuomo’s balanced approach shows that localism is really a framework for collaboration. …


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Photo via Unsplash

I’m confident that the days of our global quarantine are numbered and that a new conversation will soon begin to unfold. While the present conversation has to do with survival — wearing and donating masks, washing hands, and helping neighbors get groceries — the new conversation will be centered on rebuilding.

When the stay-at-home orders begin to lift, we will begin to step cautiously towards a new future. What that future will look like is unclear, but what is clear is that we are not going “back” to life as normal. Millions of people in the U.S. could find themselves in poverty. …


This pandemic has illuminated how charity, as one of the most distinguishing traits of American culture, has not died. How can we design technology and infrastructure to keep the habits of mutual aid alive after times of pandemic?

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

COVID-19 has changed New York City. Sirens wail hourly outside my window. The streets are empty as is the park, normally bursting at the seams in this time of year. Businesses have hand-written closure announcements in their windows; for many of them, this closure will not be temporary. The news is full of stories about our overloaded hospitals, strained public services workers, and desperate locals afraid of eviction. …


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Gregor Fischer/DPA via ZUMA Press via Mother Jones

For the past ten weeks, millions of Hong Kong citizens have been gathering in public spaces to protest a potential extradition agreement between Beijing and Hong Kong. The agreement would allow Beijing to extradite anyone they wish to prosecute for crimes. In Beijing’s authoritarian climate crimes could include criticizing the Beijing government and holding pro-democracy views. Such an agreement would mean trouble for many people who have sought political safety in Hong Kong, a rise in what some call legalized kidnapping by China, and an encroachment on Hong Kong’s political autonomy, which is protected by international law until 2047.

For those of us living in peaceful democracies, what’s unfolding in Hong Kong offers some important…


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Rebuilding civic habits often feels like driving without a map. There’s no universal checklist for “becoming involved.” Going to volunteer sometimes feels like a crap-shoot and finding ways to be involved in my neighborhood literally involves scanning light poles for flyers because there’s no systemized method for information-sharing. I really want to build a personal rhythm of civic engagement, but to be honest, it often feels like I’m fumbling in the dark.

One day, I found inspiration in an unlikely place: a 19th-Century essay about civic duty written by Andrew Carnegie and quoted below. This essay and additional reading stuck with me because it showed me how rebuilding civic habits as an American millennial is less about doing something totally new and more about rediscovering an aspect of the American spirit that has been there all along. …


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Rebuilding civic habits doesn’t come easily for many of us. I write about being neighborly here at BV, yet I know from first hand experience that getting connected in a new neighborhood can take much trial and error, not to mention a willingness to overcome anxieties and enter into potentially awkward situations. Why is a frequent question I ponder: Why put in the effort to be engaged, especially if, like me, you live in a big city, don’t own your home, and might travel often.

I previously answered this question by pointing out that rebuilding civic habits makes us happier. A second reason is that civic engagement puts us in a great position to learn more about our communities: What makes them work? What are its weaknesses? Who has access to power and how are they using it? Over time, through individual and collective action, strong networks of civically engaged neighbors can work together to shape their community in healthy ways. …


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Rebuilding civic habits might not come easily to many of us, so naturally, there’s a significant why question when it comes to practicing civic engagement, especially for those of us who live in big cities and who may not be living in our current neighborhoods for a long time.

One study found that feeling like you belong to a community can increase happiness by 72%. One reason is because civic engagement empowers you to build social capital, which is basically like building your own personal safety net in the neighborhood where you live.

Social capital might sound academic, but it’s actually quite ordinary. We rely on social capital for large decisions (getting jobs) and small ones (having a neighbor water your plants or walk your dog). It’s basically the accumulated value of our social networks, an intangible resource that’s based entirely on building reciprocal, mutually-beneficial, non-intimate relationships. …


Millennials have shouldered the blame for all sorts of social and political problems and when it comes to civics, it would be easy to beat the same drum, mourning how millennials are one of the least civically-engaged generations in the U.S.

But digging a little deeper beyond that stat will reveal that millennials may not be engaged in civic life on a local level, but that’s more because we don’t know what to do, not because we don’t want to do it. Millennials do care about neighbors, being involved, and caring for people. …

Tiffany Owens

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