Good neighbourliness may be a particularly good topic for finding and developing activities supporting climate action. Partly because many institutions already carry out projects aimed at developing local and neighbourly partnerships, other institutions have fixed programmes which involve reaching out to the closest neighbourhood. An increasing number of institutions provide common green space for their neighbours in the vicinity of their buildings. This also extends to caring for the natural world: there are wildflower meadows, communal gardens and bee hives for urban bees. In this context, adding ecological activity to these experiences will not be difficult, but it may deepen the meaning of these initiatives. You can also try to weave them into other elements of institutional programmes.
Diagnosis of what is around us, who is around us
Firstly, look at your institution as one of the many elements making up the local ecosystem, as part of a dependency system. Locate partners for your activities, find out their needs and work out common goals. Notice how diverse this environment is: as well as local residents there are also various shops, service providers, housing associations, other institutions and organisations, and – we must not forget – non-human residents of our area. It is worth locating your institution in this rich landscape, looking for common matters of interest and contributing together to creating a lively pleasant place. We will then see many dimensions of a good neighbourhood: social, economic and natural, as well as institutional and political.
Initially, take a look at what areas need taking care of: what is the condition of the lawn adjacent to the institution where you work? Does your institution have a wider area which it manages? What daily practices from inside the building can affect the outside? What is happening in the nearest squares and parks? Is there living space for insects, worms, plants, small animals, fungi? When you define your area of activity and decide what you want to be co-responsible for, consider whether someone else is already dealing with this topic, which of your neighbours could become interested, who would it be worth inviting to join? Tools associated with social animation and education will help you carry out this diagnosis. It is worth asking colleagues from the education department for support or approaching local socio-cultural workers. You can find them in local cultural centres, community halls and centres and NGOs. Also, get in touch with local activists. In order to find them, it may be a good idea to trace authors of participatory budget projects from several editions. Consider organising an inclusive neighbourhood picnic.
It is worth checking the website of your local parks and greenery department. In many towns and cities such departments support pro-environmental action, e.g. Warsaw Greenery Department supports urban gardening, provides composters in parks and distributes rainwater containers. You will find many useful tips on easy-to-run ecological projects on the website of the Sendzimir Foundation. Another good source of information is www.bujnawarszawa.pl, where you will find proposals for concrete activities and texts explaining the wider context of taking care of the natural world in your area. The achievements of the Latin-American museology (new museology (II)) may be inspiring in this context. In this concept, a museum, and in a wider sense, an institution, does not concentrate on its building and objects/projects but focuses on broadly defined interdisciplinary heritage as a common good, requiring common care. It also concentrates on finding methods of co-managing. Here you will find a publication from the first edition of the Laboratorium Muzeum project entitled ‘Community’ which effectively explains how to understand and practically implement the concept of co-creating an institution together with a diverse community.
When you have discovered how many elements are included in the notion of good and ecological neighbourliness and when you have defined what activities you would like to take, with whom, and using what tools, think about how you want to talk about your activities. Remember that a cultural institution is a platform of knowledge. Make sure you communicate facts, explain why you have entered into cooperation with the local activists or local businesses and why you are engaging with local nature. You have a number of tools at your disposal: campaigns on social media, newsletters, posters which can be displayed in the common spaces of residential buildings. Or perhaps there is some space for local and environmental cooperation in the already established programmes of your institution? You do not have to create separate dedicated projects to include local and environmental topics in the programming. Local activists, young people or seniors may help you carry out your research. Sometimes it is enough to let some fresh air into your thinking patterns and ensure that these topics are permanently present in the programme of the institution you work for.
Remember that you have a range of small gestures at your disposal, which, when regularly made, may contribute to deeper changes within your institution and to how it is perceived. Materials necessary to carry out your activities can be purchased in local shops. Pay attention to what raw materials they were made from and how they were packaged. Choose vegan products. Remember that the meat and food industries producing animal products are largely responsible for the pollution of air, groundwater, rivers, soil, i.e. common resources which we all use. As far as possible, use local services. Through such behaviour you reduce carbon footprint generated by transport. You also build closer relationships with the businesses from your area. You support their economic status. You build and gain friendly relationships with the ‘institution-local business’ approach.
Cooperatives and local services
When you organise meetings with refreshments, search for cooperatives offering catering services. Buy your products from grocery cooperatives, which support a network of local and ecological farmers, thus building models of the social and solidarity economy. There are many search engines for social and solidarity economy entities from various sectors, so finding them should not be difficult, e.g. http://www.bazaps.ekonomiaspoleczna.gov.pl.
Small architectural constructions for your exhibitions can be ordered from local carpentry studios. This way you support small local businesses and have an influence on the materials used for producing your objects. Moreover, you avoid long-distance transportation. This way you promote local artisans and reduce carbon footprint at the same time. It is worth considering the above when trying to address the categories of competitive price on the one hand and quality of products, supporting the local economy and impacting the environment on the other.
Take advantage of exchange initiatives and rent equipment you need. In Warsaw, there is a platform called Spółdzielnia Kultury (Culture Cooperative), which facilitates sharing various resources (equipment, space, etc.). It is important for institutions to join such platforms and networks (or launch them), share their resources, and together supply missing equipment. Institutions have more resources than NGOs, housing associations or smaller entities such as libraries. It is worth carrying out an inventory and considering how many items were never used and whether someone could make some use of them. We can list items to give away for free on a neighbourhood noticeboard. An example of such a noticeboard is available here
Local co-operations may contribute to developing our audience but first and foremost, they promote a certain model of behaviour, introduce new practices and create a concrete common resource which can easily be accessed by anyone. We hope that creating and using centralised storage of objects for use in exhibitions or scenography available for partner institutions will become a new and popular practice among curators, exhibition architects, directors and set designers. The practical value of creating common and accessible resources will be much greater than keeping objects and equipment in locked storage. Such a change of the paradigm from individual-institutional consumers to co-creators of common resources is also a new task for institutions – how to address this change in a way reducing the apparent burdensomeness of the new practices? (see: PRODUCTION: MATERIALS)
Common biodiverse space around institutions
Organise practical workshops at your organisation, the effects of which will enrich the common space. Building a composter together with specialists can effectively deal with the stereotypes, such as the foul smell of compost. A lot of Polish towns and municipalities develop a network of urban composters in parks. A rain garden is another thing you can create with your neighbours, while discussing the effects of climate change and the need to adapt cities to new conditions and the scarcity of water. If there is a large enough area in the neighbourhood, you may initiate a community garden, inviting local residents and institutions from the neighbourhood. Nothing integrates people better than the toil and pleasure associated with growing plants and vegetables together. The website www.bujnawarszawa.pl contains instructions and tips on how such gardens can be started. When volunteering to initiate a community garden, you must be aware that this is going to be a long-term project. It will take a few seasons, as the garden needs to freely and organically grow, with each new element added (new flower beds, wildflower meadow, communal table, etc.). A community garden is a strongly environmental and communal activity. Therefore, it can be an ideal place for educating and making people aware of the processes and needs of nature.
Programmes of the Zachęta gallery include examples of bringing art into the area around its building in a way that supports non-human life. ‘Wicker Hiding Places’ by Jaśmina Wójcik show how the sensitivity and creativity of artists can help produce friendly public spaces.
Wild natural neighbourhood – supportive intervention
It is worth introducing practices associated with caring for the flora and fauna into the annual programme and the institution’s long-term policy. Good neighbourliness is also about caring for comfortable conditions for non-human organisms. It is good to join forces with experts, artists, organisations and movements directly involved in environmental protection. Learn from your cooperation and directly ask for help, so that the institution’s activity supports creating the right conditions for plants, animals and fungi to thrive. The website of the Warsaw Greenery Department includes a ‘Library’ tab, where you can find publications advising on environmental good neighbourliness.
It is also worth taking care of the smallest neighbours, often escaping the human eye, and delineate zones of wild nature. These can be spaces which would not be used for recreation. Aesthetically, they will vary from generally accepted standards e.g. unmowed grass, high bushes, leaves left scattered around. Remember that their presence is an important element of ‘wildlife’, in other words: animate nature, i.e. nature which was not introduced by a human. Its presence conditions biodiversity of a city. It is worth remembering that “one cubic metre of the crown of a tree in an old park is home to a few hundred different organisms. On the leaves, in the leaves, on the bark, in the air” (M. Luniak, ‘Wildlife in the City’ – a publication available on the website of the Warsaw Greenery Department). Ask naturalists for help and support. Activities taken by people of various professions around Warsaw’s Zakole Wawerskie may serve as an example.
Creating animal-friendly zones in the urban environment is not about not intervening at all but about intervening in a supportive way. It is easy to look after the fertility of the ground around your building by extending this area and ensuring humidity (refraining from mowing the grass or raking leaves), oxygenation and insulation. It will thus become an appropriate ecosystem for the underground and terrestrial fauna, in effect stabilising the wellbeing of urban trees. You should also consider that for bushes to be useful e.g. to sparrows, they should be at least the height of a human. Dead wood in the form of logs and trunks with hollows is a habitat for hundreds of species of invertebrates and fungi and a shelter for smaller mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Building shelters from dry and fallen branches (so-called ‘braids’ or habitat piles) will provide safe living conditions to small organisms and it will also delineate zones where human users will not call so often. Weaving branches into panels, on the other hand, is an opportunity for common work to which you may invite your audience and neighbours. An example of such a work is ‘Shelter’ by Anna Siekierska, carried out at the Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPLhHn0bjiA]. (See: NATURE)
Carrying out a series of activities following principles of good neighbourliness will allow you to explore the multitude of perspectives and needs intersecting in one place. An institution is only one component. In this way, we learn to look deeply and carefully at the surrounding area and the neighbouring microcosms. It is through small actions and cooperation that we learn responsibility and solidarity across sectors and species. After a series of such community experiences and practices, focus on creating tools that will help disseminate these activities in your institution and your neighbourhood.
Instead of addressing your neighbours/partners (institutions, NGOs, offices or housing associations) individually or answering queries concerning the availability of your equipment or facilities, you can join platforms which organise mutual exchanges. If such a platform does not exist in your location, your institution may initiate it and receive relevant funding. You can follow the example of Spółdzielnia Kultury (Culture Cooperative) in Warsaw or ‘Exchanger – a community-based exchange system’ (www.wymiennik.org). When creating new tools, make them available under an open licence (Creative Commons). This will make it possible for others to use them, adjusting them to local needs.
Participation in local politics
Getting to know you neighbours and local challenges better may motivate you to remain vigilant about the decisions taken in your district and city. Permanent presence of representatives of institutions at district and city council meetings (as part of their professional duties), as well as entering into partnerships with residents and grassroots movements strengthens the image of an institution as truly caring about and engaged in local wellbeing. The voice of institutions as entities enjoying prestige and social trust is stronger and more impactful. Authentic engagement strengthened by the experience of working together may help raise unpopular perspectives, marginalised by the discourse, especially where nature is concerned. Nature should have its representation and influence on decisions taken. The Whanganui river in New Zealand became a legal person, as did the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers in India.
‘Open Jazdów’ in Warsaw (www.jazdow.pl) is a special example of a long-term process of social and democratic management by multiple partners. This model is about inclusivity, multi-party negotiations, making people aware of the needs of various groups creating a socially, environmentally, artistically and politically common space. This inspirational initiative began as organised opposition against the plan to destroy wooden Finnish houses in the centre of Warsaw. Thanks to perseverance, strategic and visionary thinking, it is a working example of the co-management of a place, of a substantive and artistic programme and the development of the management process itself. Currently, the estate has numerous equal hosts: families residing in the houses, NGOs renting the houses to carry out their activity, informal groups, a branch of a cultural centre, a formal manager of the area as well as municipal bodies.
A tool that can be used for neighbourly substantive cooperation on the institution’s programme (or its fragment) is, for example, the programme council. As its members, you can appoint people representing neighbourhood institutions, local business, the public, local authorities, local community, and nature. It would be good to jointly agree on the principles, scope and impact of its operation at the founding meeting. All parties will be able to determine to what extent (in terms of time and content) they can engage and fulfil their mutual obligations. Remember about regular evaluation so as to modify the way the council works to meet changing conditions and needs.
Regardless of whether or not you decide to engage in neighbourly co-operation related to your programme, you can have a go at co-managing the area in close proximity to the cultural institution in which you work. A group of local hosts can help you do this. This may concern city squares or green squares. This idea is promoted by the ‘Squares of Warsaw’ project . The methods of neighbourly co-management are described in more detail in the area of PARTNERSHIPS AND ECO-COALITIONS.