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For over a decade I’ve been advocating for adding a much more robust volunteer sector to our civic functionality. Not more non-profits or foundations and fund raising, but actual people out fixing things around them with no formal structure above them dictating what’s a worthy expenditure of their time or not.

Government has become chronically polarized and mostly unworkable. That said, up until recently I’ve always held out hope that the government would show up in time of societal need and at least make an effort. I now question whether even that minor bit of hope was unwarranted. I see nothing that would indicate the polarization and dysfunction will subside or at even level off. I could go into detail, but what’s the point.

Melvin’s Neighborhood is a societal supplement; one that runs on Hopepunk, decentralization and the people. It’s not meant to overthrow or burn down anything. Nelson Mandela coined the concept of “a society within a society”. His vision assumes an alternative (or supplement) is built along side (or inside) the old. This alternative will gain converts, usurping power and influence from the old gradually — leading to large scale societal evolution; one built on a more civilized and collaborative set of social and economic tenets.

Each of the neighborhoods or independent communities within the Melvin’s Neighborhood ecosystem are called Nodes. These can be either entire towns or cities or parts of a larger one. The fundamental objective of a Neighborhood Node is to create itself as a community of permission. Permission is not implied. Permission requires engagement. It is the antithesis of indifference, which is too often commonplace. It's taking the time and exerting the mental energy to acknowledge that your fellow Residents, whether or not they have the same demographic characteristics, hold the same political views or occupy the social standing you may (or think you do); still warrant your attention and respect. Without this acknowledgement, your community has little chance of equitably moving forward in a sustainable way. It’s through this acknowledgement we build healthy communities founded on neighborly engagement (the Middle Ring) that can act as an ad hoc social safety net; catching those too often let to fall by our decaying institutions.


Rhizomes and Decentralized Civic Engagement

Biologists say trees are social beings. They can count learn and remember. They nurse sick members, warn each other of dangers by sending electrical signals across a fungal network and for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them a sugar solution through roots. (Marije van Zomeren)

Nature offers us a bounty of organization structures we can emulate. We’d be better off paying attention. My favorite is rhizomes. One of nature’s most effective means of sustainability, the rhizome is a modified subterranean stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes develop from axillary buds and grow perpendicular to the force of gravity. A rhizome also retains the ability to allow new shoots to grow upwards. If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant … and a new node of above ground activity.


“A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles … the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even non-sign states … The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.” A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari)

This phenomena of decentralized activity in rhizomes was best articulated in French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in the ’60s. Rather than using the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the single origin of “things”; a societal rhizome continually establishes connections between threads of meaningful communication, organizations of power, and other influences (including arts, sciences, and social struggles). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and formal organization, instead favoring a Nomadic system of growth and proliferation. In their model, influence and application spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces in the community – maximizing the resources available to it, regardless where they come from and what they are. This is a perfect alternative to the governmental morass of hierarchal dysfunction we’re currently immersed in.


Front Porches

First we must build the vehicle. This vehicle is not a place or even a thing, but the collective journey of our community. It’s about movement. This journey happens on a metaphoric road or as Deleuze and Guattari call it, the Smooth Space, or as I call it, the Rhizome Cluster.

This vehicle or platform is not formally defined, but rather takes the form of the influences that inhabit it. These influences can include existing organizations (businesses and other) as well as social norms, ideals and community expectations. In the context of my model Melvin’s Neighborhood, the Rhizome Cluster is rooted your community’s small businesses or Front Porches network, the members of the community who are their customers and employees, and the societal norms and expectations they create.

What a community does and creates with its Rhizome Cluster will determine the well-being of its populace. It is the duty of the Rhizome Cluster to accommodate and nurture the positive intangible, serendipitous, sensual and tactical engagements of all the members of its community (i.e. empathy, creativity, collaboration and self-actualization). It’s here situations for civic improvement will be informally identified and executed, using Residents with unique and relevant abilities rising to the surface and taking the lead, much like a plant rhizome would when the conditions are right, such as after a rainfall. This Situational Leadership is the basis of the decentralized network that represents the evolution of civic organization.



Nomadism And "Clearing The Debris"

The viability of the Rhizome Cluster as a societal driver depends on who’s driving. Any shell can house extraordinary activity coming from open permissive people … or none at all. Those included must not be limited by the title and organization on their business card – but rather be a member of a diverse array — able move freely like a Nomad traveling where the resources and opportunities lie.

Nomadism is a way of life that exists outside of traditional organizational or societal norms (at least in modern times). The Nomad is a way of being in the middle or between points. It is characterized by movement and change, and is unfettered by systems of organization. The goal of the Nomad is only to continue to move within the “intermezzo.” (the journey rather than the destination). This constant state activity prevents itself from existing for the sake of existing as conventional organizations and institutions most often do. The goal is to make things happen, to find opportunities and create solutions; not just to “be.” This Nomadic behavior also lends itself to the individual focusing on what interests them and where they can contribute the most, rather than just working within the constraints of a pre-defined, often inefficient role or job. In short, being a Nomad can greatly enhance ones sense of engagement and well-being. Or according to the Danish philosopher Søren Kiekegaard, be “the evolved man.”

Being a Nomad is no easy task though. We are products of the factors and levers that influence us. These influences are everywhere. They mold us, nudging us who they think we should be and what we should prioritize in our lives— all while preventing us from truly growing as human beings fueled by life preferences “we” create. In a world highlighted by self-efficacy and individual agency, these preferences would be constructed by us personally, made of own hopes and dreams that we deem important because we’re us — not an physical avatar.

We need to be constantly “emptying our cup”, from the philosophy of Bruce Lee, the martial arts and life improvement icon. I call it “clearing the debris". Trying to add to a full cup or build on a surface littered with debris is futile. This removal process needs to happen on both an individual level and a collective. Nudges can be used here too, both through the bleedingEDGE Platform and ubiquitously in the community, often using guerilla tactics.


Hopepunk: Your Community's Conscience

Once we have the vehicle and the people … we need the fuel. The fuel is the processes, the sociological assistance and prodding needed to propel your vehicle down the road. It’s not so much a thing, but the result of a community’s past behavior and the systems put in place to modify or continue on in the future. Deleuze and Guattari called this formless set of influences the Body Without Organs. I call it Hopepunk.

Hopepunk is civic self-efficacy in action. In Melvin’s Neighborhood, it’s what the rhizome social philosophy using the Nomadic actions of its components (Residents) operating on the Rhizome Cluster (Front Porches). Or in simpler terms; it's hope in action coming from the streets. In itself the consciousness has no form until the variables of the community are injected into it. The community’s personality and overall state of well-being are the result of the interactions among its populace and its businesses and other civic and social organizations. It can take a conservative form or a progressive one. NIMBYism and gated communities — or collaborative and communal. Closed and ridden with silos or tolerant and welcoming. Wall Street or Main Street. This is the community’s personality. But rather than the personality being dictated by those on the high rungs of a traditionally mandated hierarchy – it will come to form through the participation of those who live there … those on the streets, no matter their social stature.

How the community directly responds to its needs and opportunities will be what it is. Rather than just let it happen, Melvin’s Neighborhood use the bleedingEDGE Engagement Platform to help nudge along our Residents via "Opening The Shades", their targeted email of customized relevant engagement opportunities. These nudges can relate to participating in a cause, ordering something healthy at your favorite watering hole or just a reminder to be a good person. The resulting actions together with your neighbors' will help make up your community’s.

A special program we devised to reward positive acknowledgement is Melvin Cards. Melvin Cards are the Neighborhood’s way of spreading goodwill. We all encounter people in our daily routine that we just want to go over and give big hug to; those people who are especially nice at the restaurant you went to for lunch; or those people who give up their seat on a bus for someone not as able. The list of what these “positive people” do is limited only by the size of their hearts, and the size of yours to recognize them. These are the people you want in your community.


Melvin’s Neighborhood: The Rhizome-Built Community (and world)

Our definition of infrastructure needs to evolve if we are to truly take advantage of ‘the people’. The constraints of hierarchy and our “hand everything over” to political representation needs to be subjugated in order for us move ahead. Historically we look at infrastructure as what the government provides or regulates and then we build a society on top of it. In a capitalistic economy such as ours (where the primary resources are held in private hands) this is problematic — and always will be unless we transform into a socialistic economy, which we’ve seen is no option.

Enter Deleuze and Guattari. These two envisioned an organizational and societal model based on the opportunity-based structure of plant rhizomes, the root-like structures that flourishes ubiquitously under our back yards. Rhizomes look for opportunities to spout and present themselves to the world when and where the conditions are right (e.g. water, light, nutrients). This runs contrary to a hierarchical structure where resources and power the top down. Melvin’s Neighborhood is built on this philosophy.

A community built around the tenets and philosophy of Melvin’s Neighborhood will have a consciousness of benevolence, empathy and well-being — as well as operating with high bar designed for action, not just discussion. Melvin’s Neighborhood doesn’t stop at your communityu's boundaries either.

No matter where you live, you can build Melvin’s Neighborhood. We give you the tools you will need to help spread a new way of thinking about community. Neighborhood Nodes can spur each other on through friendly competition. Imagine a FoodIQ rating system which evaluates each Node systematically on the health of its food ecosystem. Nodes would better themselves through competing with each other. In the end, the Residents of all Nodes win. Adjacent Nodes, or even Front Porches within those Nodes, could band together on a common cause creating an exponential effect.

Will your community be part of Melvin’s World? Will you make Hopepunk your mantra, or will you hang onto the status quo and rely on government to carry out your wishes — or not? Are you willing to take a cyber break long enough to truly be a neighbor and part of the community you physically live in, not just a fleeting one one the screen of your phone.

If not, I wish you luck. If so though — let’s take it to the next level.

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