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Green Valley

I grew up in Minot, North Dakota in the ’60s and ’70s. Minot had a population of about 35,000 (it’s a little more now). More specifically, I grew up in Green Valley. Green Valley is a sub-division of about eighty suburban houses, not unlike most other suburbs built in the ’50s. It was what you would call middle class with a few upper-middle bordering the Mouse River. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood; next door, across the street and down the block. All of us played in the streets and in each other’s yards. Again, probably not unlike most other suburban neighborhoods of that time.

Everyone in Green Valley pretty much knew each other. During the fall the fathers would watch football across the street at Nutter’s; the Vikings vs. the Packers, with Bobbie Nutter in the kitchen. Both sides wore their respective teams jerseys and stocking hats (remember it’s North Dakota). The kids were normally in the back yard pretending to be Joe Kapp or Bart Starr. And every June the neighborhood held the Green Valley picnic at the ‘vacant lot’ which doubled as a baseball field in the summer when school was out (our version of ‘Sandlot’).

As I grew older and went to high school there was less playing in our friends yards, but the neighborhood was still there. When I had parties when my parents weren’t home, the neighbors didn’t call the police — but rather just looked from their kitchen windows to make sure nothing got out of hand. They’d rather have their kids across the street and drinking — than driving the streets and drinking.

When we were kids we knew our neighborhoods. We knew everything, every inch of it. We knew who grew what in their gardens and when was the good time to sneak in and steal carrots. It always seemed to be carrots. I don’t why, but it always was. If something in our neighborhood changed, we knew it. How many of us know our neighborhood now? Not our old neighborhood, but the one we live in now. I suppose you could say that once you get older you don’t have time for those things. But isn’t it still your neighborhood, still where you live? You may not care about your neighbor’s carrots … but shouldn’t you still care about your neighbor?

The story you read above is mine, Clay Forsberg. What you'll learn about while traveling through this site is my idea of a vehicle for community building, merging private and public, through civic self-efficacy and resident resourcefulness.


Institutional Rot

We have serious institutional rot - pretty much wherever you live. I have to believe that a good portion of our societal polarization is due from the fact that the institutions we’ve looked to to solve our problems have become little more than self-serving and dysfunctional, beginning with the federal government. This dysfunction has bred civic apathy. Regardless who’s in power, whatever party — nothing happens but incessant obstructionism, and to most of the public it's no surprise.

Just as bad though (and maybe worse), is that we still have faith, naively believing this behavior will change and these antiquated institutions will rise up and reclaim the glory we perceive they had looking back through our rose-colored glasses. What we don’t see is the glory should really belong to us, the people in the streets. The only ones who can help us is us and those around us — our Middle Ring. No matter what politician we stand behind or how well-intended they may be — ultimately they’re shackled by the ‘system’ and the political paralysis gradually that has set in over decades. I call this reclaiming of the streets by the Middle Ring, Hopepunk. Imagine the do-it-yourself mentality of steampunk but used for civic ends; cobbling together and maximizing the resources and expertise we all have to solve problems and realize the opportunities hiding just under the surface.

Ukraine has been a perfect example of the power of Hopepunk. Entire communities have been risking everything to stand up against Putin and his assumingly far superior military. If it were only the Ukrainian military fighting — the country would be overrun. Power from comes from the streets though … and most often through collaboration from those who are connected only through neighborhood proximity. The Middle Ring, using the resourcefulness of Hopepunk might very well save their country. Let this be an example for all of us, no matter what issue we face.

Closer to home, I’ve saw it in small town where I recently lived in Montana. Ravished by unprecedented flooding, people who would normally not even return a morning greeting, struck up conversations with me. There was empathy where I never before saw any. The combination of facing a common adversary and undertaking the collective action needed to overcome has dissolved normally impenetrable ideological barriers. Unfortunately it takes a natural disaster or an invading hoard to get us to act like neighbors.

We’ve turned instead to institutions and they aren’t working; yet we continue to think they are the answer. We abandon the idea we can fix things ourselves. Even the most well-intended are left civically paralyzed as they “farm out” their well-being. They can’t imagine a way that doesn’t include institutional overlords waving their magic wands and making everything OK.

Our institutions may have worked years ago, but now they become petrified, riddled with bureaucracy and self-interest. We need a civic revitalization — and not just one using the same paradigm with different players, regardless their political ideology.

What if we acted like we did in a disaster all the time. What if it didn’t take life threatening situations for us to act like those around us were our neighbors in fact, and not just by proximity. What if we shared our common dreams and common goals — only to realize they were there all the time. What if we worked together to achieve them. And what if hope was a central tenet of this togetherness. This is Hopepunk.


Hopepunk And Melvin's Neighborhood

Hopepunk requires us to be present in the real world, even if we spend much of our time in a virtual one. We cannot retreat totally and abandon where we actually live. To do this we need to rebuild our neighborhoods and the Middle Ring of relationships that should naturally occur. It’s less about constructing physical elements to make people neighbors again. That will come once we construct the relationships. Our neighborhoods, must be rooted in physical contact, not where inhabitants burrow in isolated rooms in isolated houses detached, literally and figuratively from each other. The virtual world is an augmentation, not a replacement.

We need to move beyond our own short term consumption to contribution. What we can do for those around us which would build the collective, the neighborhood and the neighbors we may need to lean on at some point. This doesn’t come from politics, or Washington or any “representative” we elect. It comes from us and those around us — seeing the needs of each of our individual neighbors.

Our traditional response in pop culture is to depict our solution being delivered by a superhero; a person or thing that will save the day. Our culture is filled with them. The movie industry is literally built on them these days. This societally passive view has spilled over to our reliance on political figures to act as superheroes. Our war has turned not into civilization against a common foe; but one political superhero against another. Problems never get addressed as the battle of egos relentlessly marches on.

In literature, Hopepunk is an approach in which characters choose to fight to make things better - not just to obtain power. They are motivated for noble purposes. Hopepunk is a reaction to decades of dystopian nihilism often driven by inequality and corrupt ineffective institutions. It explores how goodness and optimism can be acts of rebellion in themselves. A Hopepunk narrative is driven by fierce caring and the will to fight for something good. The worlds described in hopepunk works are not utopian or even necessarily idealistically hopeful. They are expressed in the ways characters approach issues. It's the balance of building on the potential of each individual to create a collective movement that is rooted in self-efficacy, agency and ground-level action.

Hopepunk relegates the role of the superhero to sidelines while putting us and neighbors on the field to battle our common adversary, whatever that may be. No matter how bad things are, if we focus locally with each other there always seems to be hope. Indians have a term they call jugaad: “a flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way." Hopepunk truly embodies jugaad.

What we need is a staging ground for the fight, a place that nurtures Hopepunk and allows us to band together with our neighbors for the collective fight. In order achieve collective success we need individuals who are well though. The whole is essential to the sum of its parts. While we need to build our civic muscle — our collective strength is only as formidable as the prowess of each individual. The healthier we are individually (physically, mentally and socially) the more likely we are to create societal change, change that displaces the stench of the institutional rot. We need incorporate all aspects of the community to make this work. We don’t need to go alone. We need each other and we need the businesses and organizations we live with to join us part in creating solution too. All of it will won’t be easy — but we’re going to do our damnest to make the journey getting there fun.

Let me introduce Melvin’s Neighborhood. The Neighborhood is my project, an alternative societal vision that embodies Hopepunk. Designed to rejuvenate civic participation by solving problems and realizing opportunities it circumvents the traditional public sector. Instead the Neighborhood utilizes ‘the people’ working through a network of small businesses and organizations in the community. Melvin’s Neighborhood is a safe haven for all creatures; big, small, human and otherwise.


Let me take you on a tour of Melvin’s Neighborhood. First up: Residents.

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