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Answer This: How do you create a culture of creativity, collaboration, and collective joy?

Justin Threlkeld

Murfreesboro, TN

I need ideas. Since my wife and I moved to downtown Murfreesboro, I’ve noticed a few things: I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of fantastic stuff hidden here. I’ve met great neighbors and found some really amazing places to hang out. But I’ve also noticed that the community is experiencing some growing pains.

The biggest thing, though: there’s an apparent lack of passion in the community. Complaining and finger-pointing seem to be the most visible activity in the face of many problems. The older, old-guard leadership is doing the same tired things in response to the same old situations. No one seems to push for anything better.

I've started working with a few friends to find ways of promoting a vibrant community of creativity, collaboration, and collective joy in the downtown area. It's something we all—and many members of the community—want. But the question is, how do we do that?

Your ideas and insights would be greatly appreciated.

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  • Nina Liggett

    Hi Justin,
    I applaud your efforts, I am a professional volunteer community organizer and having lived in over 13 cities in 30 years have never lost that drive to engage with my neighbors and bring good through public events. Here are a few of my lessons learned, hopefully the will help:

    1. Acknowledge every idea and person with openness and kindness, it will help mediate resistance to change and show you come from a place of good. PERSONALLY invite people to engage and participate. I know it is old school, but mass emailing or social network invites don't make people feel special or needed, and you lose the urgency behind your mission for EVERYONE to show up. --- This seems daunting and exhausting but it can be delegated to a strong host committee members who have in's in the community.
    2. Find your ambassador(s). You need people that have been there for a long time, that people trust, to be on your side, or at least interested in seeing you succeed. What you lack as a newcomer is a following, you have to earn your place in the tribe before you can become a leader.
    3. Never underestimate the power of your message. Make it visually interesting and important.

    Good luck! Can't wait to see what you all do in Musfreesboro

  • Patrick McDonnell

    Hello Justin,

    I'm from Dallas and we're doing a lot of on the ground work to develop the social side, and bring flavor to the community on the cheap in Downtown.

    Alessandra gave a really good overview of Team Better Block which is located in Dallas, and I've worked together with them from time to time. Here's the their TED talk on Building a Better Block.

    If you'd like to Google Hangout sometime let me know:

    • Justin Threlkeld

      Thanks for sharing that link, I'll put it on my watch list. We should look into a time for Google Hangout for sure, I would love to pick your brain a bit.

  • Vicki Lewis

    Hi Justin,
    I am in downtown Boro and know this area well. I help women start creative and "out of the box" holistic businesses in this area. It would be fun to talk sometime. Want to go for a walk and talk in downtown sometime? When is the art and design show?

    • Justin Threlkeld

      Vicki, we're planning the show for September 13th at Reveille Joe Coffee Co. You should check out our Facebook page at —we're using the page to publish details and engage the community. I'd love to meet up sometime. Shoot my a message on the page and we can set something up.

  • John Wynn

    Justin, my sincerest apology for calling you Jason...I was so excited to see your question that I didn't bother to grab my glasses before I started typing.

    • Justin Threlkeld

      Ha, no worries. Last night, a Batista wrote my name as Justine. He's one of my close friends. It happens to the best of us! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

    • Justin Threlkeld

      I'm looking into it right now. Thanks for posting!

  • John Wynn

    Jason...experiencing much of the same in my new neighborhood in Cleveland...had to jump in and see what ideas others might have. We have tried block parties, pop-up events, a shared community website, neighborhood clean-ups, block club meetings,potluck dinners, dog walks, movie nights, etc, etc., etc. I know that the process can be slow and oftentimes, painful, but I refuse to give up! Here's hoping for some great ideas!

    • Justin Threlkeld

      It's a little daunting, isn't it? We're just at the beginning of this journey, and it's already hard. We have a community Facebook group, and the membership isn't always the most civil or proactive group of people. It's discouraging when someone suggests an idea on there that gets people excited only to have another member start pointing out all the problems: how it's been tried before and why it just won't work. It really is an uphill battle, but the top of the hill seems so worth it. We just have to hang in there and keep doing what we can to make our communities awesome.

      • John Wynn

        My experience has been pretty much the same. We started using as our social media platform last fall and recently the discourse has been anything but civil. Our neighborhood has changed quite a bit in the last few years. Hit pretty hard by the foreclosure crisis, home prices remain low and many homes have been purchased by investors and converted into rentals. As a result, the neighborhood population has become more diverse, in terms of both race and income disparity. This appears to be the root of the divisiveness I am seeing in the neighborhood and the biggest hurdle preventing the community from coming together as one.

        • Justin Threlkeld

          It's really unfortunate when that happens, John. Keep your chin up and remember that while diversity can create tension, sometimes that tension is good. and diversity is what makes communities strong. The main thing, though, is that everyone needs to feel ownership in the community, and I think rentals feel more temporary and lower that ownership factor.

      • Donna D.

        Don't let the nay-sayers get you down. Turn it around on them. If it's "been tried before and just won't work", list the reasons why it "just won't work", then look for the solutions to those barriers. Like all big problems, the resolution comes by breaking the big problem into smaller segments that can be addressed more easily individually. As you begin to conquer more hurdles, momentum will grow, along with enthusiasm and support. Never say never. Be strong and build the dream.

        • pezzutes

          Donna, I love your response, and feel it applies to more than this thread. In fact, I'm posting it on my fb page, and will give credit to you, if you'd like. Thanks for piping in.
          I live in Oakland, which has had more than our fare share of tragedy in the last several weeks. Senseless murders that boggle the mind in their callousness: a child, a father and baby son, an elderly pet sitter traveling through the neighborhood. I keep asking myself, what can I do? What can we do? And have felt that if I keep asking that question, the answers will become obvious. And this is one of them. I'm glad Justin posted, his challenge is mine, is ours. Good luck to all working to make a difference in your communities. Glad to find this forum here today.

    • Yasha Wallin

      John, this sounds encouraging. Have you seen your efforts pay off yet? Do you think that the community is starting to come together?

      • John Wynn

        Yasha, thanks for asking...progress is slow but I am seeing some encouraging signs. People are at least communicating and I am beginning to understand the underlying issues affecting our community. It is a little more than I bargained for but we are determined to make a difference.

        As I mentioned in my reply to Justin, the neighborhood has changed in many ways over the last few years and people are apprehensive about attending community events. I think if we just keep up the momentum within our core group, eventually the other residents might come least I hope so!

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    Hey Justin! Have you heard of the Better Block Project? What I like about them is that it started with a guy that just wanted to make things better in his neighborhood, so he just started doing things by giving himself hard deadlines to get the community together. Sometimes, it just involved him setting stuff up like art shows and community hangouts, which led to people showing up because they had heard about what he was doing through other community members.

    1) Give yourself deadlines of when you'd like to get your community to collaborate
    2) Email hidden spaces that you'd like to host events at and ask them when you could work with them. They may charge to rent the space, so promise them customers.
    3) Send out flyers and post them around town, to get people excited about events
    4) Reach out to local designers, artists, musicians that could help you design the flyers and make the events as fun as possible.
    5) Reach out to local community workers that may not have a creative slant. Maybe they have ideas about how to make the event helpful to the community?
    6) Make meetings happen monthly!
    7) If you have a specific ask, let me know. I run Push for Good, our roundup of all things crowdsourced. Check it out: I'll feature you this weekend to get you some more crowdsourced answers!

    • Justin Threlkeld

      I hadn't heard of that, thanks for sharing! It sounds a lot like what I'm currently getting started on. Some friends and I started on a community art and design show just for the fun of it. I think our next step is a brainstorm session in the community.

      The monthly meeting part is something I hadn't considered, but it makes a lot of sense. Meeting frequently would definitely help keep the momentum. What would you recommend doing as monthly meetings? Just meetups? or should there be some kind of objective or task at hand for each month?

  • Robbie Vitrano

    Hey Justin. Just back from some time in your part of the world. In New Orleans we learned a few things about getting people involved. I love Hillary's ideas. I'd start small, to find a few likeminds, engaged around some common ground, then bring in a broader cross section. Maybe a tightly defined brief you can lob into hackathon type of gathering. The problem could be "how do we get more people involved, taking responsibility for making the community better. Or it could be some other issue like bike lanes or a crime ridden corner. Maybe a bar or coffeehouse can give you a table. If not, a house can work. Ask a local pizza place to donate a few pies. Then document process - publish. What we found is that this sort of organizing starts with one or two people. People like you willing to stick their neck out and say it's important to get involved. While willing to share the journey, keep the ego in check.

    • Justin Threlkeld

      I like the idea of a brief-based hackathon or brainstorm. I've been doing what I can to build a network of interested parties and other community members. I could probably find space to host such an event pretty easily, and getting a decent starter crowd shouldn't be too difficult.

      What would be a good way to encourage a diverse turnout and to keep things free-flowing and fun for all involved?

  • Hillary Newman

    Hey Justin - I'm excited to see what ideas the GOOD community generates.

    Here are some off the top of my head:

    1. Organize a block party.
    2. Invite your neighbors over for drinks and talk to them about ways to improve the community.
    3. Host a massive dinner party in a park and invite everyone.
    4. Organize a community concert.
    5. Host a demo or workshop.

    • Justin Threlkeld

      Thanks Hillary, these ideas should get us started. We're in the process of planning a community art and design show here in downtown which promises to get people talking (it already has, to an extent). It's given me a good excuse to really meet a lot of the community members who are interested in doing good work here. I think my next move is to plan some kind of brainstorm session where we get a bunch of ideas on the table and start making them happen one at a time. We're developing a interactive installation where people can submit ideas for the community.

      • Love Art House

        This is a wonderful idea, the Arts are a great vehicle for bringing communities together. Giving people a chance to showcase their creations without having to go through gallery is good, and it gives people a chance to learn about what their neighbors are into artistically as well. A possible add-on would be to have the event serve as a fundraiser as well (sharing proceeds, if there are some) to give to a local community organization or charity. It can highlight some quality charities who may be in need of assistance. Best of luck to you!

      • Hillary Newman

        Sounds cool! Let me know if there are ways GOOD HQ can support you. We've been talking about how to scale GOOD Local, and I think it would be interesting to think about what starting a GOOD Local chapter in your neighborhood would look like and how it would function.

        • Justin Threlkeld

          That would be a great experiment. GOOD Local is a really interesting idea, and a chapter here would be great. Logistics might pose an interesting challenge, though. Let's talk about that more.