making it count: community-building

making change at home


Guide to the Good is pleased to feature Leaders & Followers – a series of guest blogs that, among other things, explore inside ideas about how change happens. Among his numerous roles in community engagement, Josh Smee is a member of the Guide to the Good Advisory Committee.  

by Josh Smee

Like most of us, I have complicated feelings about this place. Every day I’m still taken in by the beauty of it, bowled over by the creative energy in it, and proud of all the many people I see trying to make it a better place. As one of those people myself – with both a day job in community development and a gaggle of projects always on the go after hours – I also know that sometimes there are days when you feel like you’ve been banging your head against a clapboard wall.

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about how to keep those days to a minimum. I count myself pretty lucky. From helping establish Happy City St. John’s as a force in the community, to helping get the doors open on the new Farmers’ Market, I’ve been involved in some pretty big success stories. I’ve also made more mistakes that I can count in the process, and I certainly expect to make more. That said, it’d be a sad state of affairs if I hadn’t learned anything along the way! Here are a few lessons I’ve taken from it all:

Happy City St. John’s gets people talking about civic issues in the city. This was the Neighbourhood Summit in September 2018.
Happy City St. John’s gets people talking about civic issues in the city. This was the Neighbourhood Summit in September 2018.

Mix insiders and outsiders as much as you can: A lot of the energy and enthusiasm for the development of a new Farmers’ Market here in St. John’s came from folks who’d lived elsewhere and seen what these places can be. Same goes for Happy City, which has always avoided the “that won’t work here” objection to new ideas. A good mix of people born and raised in the community, people from here who’ve lived away, and people who’ve grown up elsewhere is often a key part of getting things moving.

Innovation is relative: if social change is your thing – particularly around sustainability – the sense of being behind can be exhausting – but there’s a hidden strength there. We have the chance to choose from a menu of ideas that have been already been put through the wringer elsewhere and come out the better for it. Usually, the people involved will happily share the details – always ask, and always look for resources to meet people in person.

The St. John’s Farmers’ Market is a locale where people in the community can gather. Innovation at the market comes from a mix of people who have lived in Newfoundland all their lives, and people who have come from away.
The St. John’s Farmers’ Market is a locale where people in the community can gather. Innovation at the market comes from a mix of people who have lived in Newfoundland all their lives, and people who have come from away.

Design matters: A decent bit of graphic design work can turn a grassroots campaign into a recognized brand. Thoughtful design of physical spaces pays off over, and over, and over again. Design is not a luxury –it’s a must-have.

We’re right-sized: Newfoundland and Labrador (and St. John’s within it) is small enough that we have access to decision-makers at a level that people in larger jurisdictions could only dream of. Use that. Bring your allies here if you can – a new face opens many doors.

Be prepared for a dust-up or two: on the flip side, our small size also means that the lines between personal, political, and business always get a bit fuzzy. If you’re starting something new or pushing for change, at some point someone will probably get mad at you – think about how you’ll handle that when it happens.

Making a change in this beautiful, complicated, confounding place means signing up for the long haul – but there are a lot of people ready to sign up with you.

this article is republished from a previous version of Guide to the Good.

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Josh Smee

St. John's-based Josh Smee is an all-around local-loving community guy and a CFA who travels throughout the province. here he shares ideas about making change.