Sometimes, it’s the smallest thing that makes a difference: Sweeping up your neighbor’s sidewalk, planting flowers, driving more cautiously on crowded streets. These are all little—but important in their own right—ways to in some way better your neighborhood.
The bigger things—feeding the hungry, holding electeds to account, becoming a block captain—can affect even bigger change in your city, something much-needed after the last two years. Are you ready? Can 2022 be the year when you make even more of a difference to the city we share?
Here, some ideas to make this the most engaged year yet:
First, give yourself a break
The past two years have been exhausting. We have lost loved ones, jobs, community; taken on new, weighty burdens; lived in a persistent state of fear and forced adaptation. It’s taken a toll.
So before you delve into all the ways we can work together to make our city better, take time for yourself, do what feels restorative. And keep coming back to this one—showing up for yourself first will allow you to better show up for your community, for our city.
Help keep your block clean
Yes, Philly is a dirty city—we all know it, we all suffer from it. But instead of complaining about it, you can actually do something. First, find ways to produce less trash, then make sure you put out your garbage responsibly (see Ya Fav Trashman’s tips). Host a street cleanup on your block, or round up a few neighbors to pitch in to sponsor a cleaner for your block through Ya Fav Trashman and Morgan Berman’s Glitter app. (You can also sign up to be a paid cleaner through the app.)
And here’s a truth: due to inequity in trash pick up, some neighborhoods deal with more garbage on the streets than others.Ya Fav Trashman’s new non profit Trash 2 Treasure is supporting neighborhoods that need it most. Donate or follow to join a clean up.
Fight climate change
There’s no doubt about it: Our collective actions now are determining the habitability—or inhabitability—of our future home. (No pressure.)
Unfortunately the biggest contributors to climate change—burning fossil fuels to produce electricity (25 percent); agriculture and land use (24 percent); factories and industries (20 percent)—are largely out of our control. It’s up to our elected officials and business leaders to create and enforce policy and change practices that will lead to the scale of lasting change this crisis requires.
So yes, continue to compost, drive less, bring reusable bags everywhere you go and—most importantly—inspire those around you to do the same, but keep in mind that individual actions are a tiny part of the answer. Vote for climate change fighters; join a movement and/or support organizations effectively advocating for big picture changes—like the Clean Air Task Force; Sunrise Movement; Carbon180 and more on this list.
Vote—and get out the vote
It’s midterms already, y’all—and there’s no break from high stakes political races. With Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s retirement leaving an open seat, we’re the most likely state to change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. And of course, we’ll be electing a new governor. See what else is on the ballot here and mark your calendars for the primary May 17th and the general election November 8th.
We know you’re probably already planning to vote. But we need you to help turn out the other 50 percent of voters that skipped the last midterm election—and get more Philadelphians set up to vote. Support young voters through Philly Youth Vote and Vote That Jawn; start a voter registration drive; talk about the election with your friends, family, neighbors and text them reminders on election day.
RELATED: 21 Reasons to Vote
Fight for racial justice
Horrendous acts of racism, government-sanctioned or -tolerated, permeate our society, seemingly without end. And the pandemic—the disparity of how the disease, testing, treatment and economic fallout has affected us—has given us another stark reminder of pervasive inequity in our country. But we must step out of hopelessness into real work. And that work must be done by all of us—perhaps, especially, by White people. Here are ways to take action.
Fight for our democracy
Maintaining a democracy requires vigilance, and hard work; it’s agonizing and sometimes offends; it can break your heart; as Pres. Biden said after the January 6 insurrection, it’s “fragile and to preserve it requires people of good will.” Here are ways to make our democracy stronger, even now when it feels weaker than ever.
It has been a long and traumatic journey for the hundreds of Afghans resetting in Philly, many who left spouses, siblings, parents behind and brought—quite literally—only the clothes on their backs. They need our support—now more than ever. They need housing (and all that makes a house a home); winter clothes; English classes; cultural orientation; driver’s licenses; jobs; healing and hope. Here are some ways you can help.
Support organizations fighting gun violence
First, listen to our podcast Philly Under Fire to better understand the gun violence crisis in Philly—you’ll hear from those directly affected and learn about prevention strategies that actually work. Check out the show notes for ways to get involved. And through Up the Block, you can find impactful local organizations to support in their work to curb gun violence.
Help feed people
Some 300,000 of us lack regular, reliable access to daily meals. What does helping ease hunger in our city look like on an individual level? Go here for all kinds of ways you can play a role in helping make sure that Philadelphians who need food can get it right now.
Honor Indigenous people
Not just on Indigenous Peoples’ Day—which the City officially designated as such this year. To become a better ally in the struggle for Indigenous rights, start with awareness and education. Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly has tons of helpful resources—many are included in our guide.
Read more work by local authors
Philly has a pretty robust literary scene—let’s keep it going by helping the writers in our midst. Connect with Blue Stoop literary community. Shop at your neighborhood’s independent bookstore. Support Mighty Writers, and help young people express themselves through words.
Join your neighborhood Buy Nothing group
It’s a simple concept: Neighbors post pictures of things they want to give away, and/or requests for items someone else may no longer have a use for. It’s a fast way to give second life to nearly anything that has become clutter in your house—plus save money and stop participating in our throw-away culture. And you get to make connections with the people who live around you, which can be more fulfilling than loading up bags and dropping them off at a thrift store. See if there’s a group near you, or start one.
Build—or supply—a little free library
Little free libraries are those small, wooden boxes—often shaped like mini houses—packed with books. They operate with a “take a book, leave a book” model, and have been popping up in neighborhoods throughout Philly and across the United States. Find one near you and donate books, or build one—and start a neighborhood literary hub.
Be a block captain
Navigating city services can be unreasonably difficult. What helps? Having one voice that speaks for many. You can help centralize resources for your neighbors and build relationships with members of City Government by becoming a block captain. Block captains are dedicated volunteers that host events, organize trash cleanups and make (a lot of) phone calls to help their neighbors solve problems. Here’s how you can fill this crucial role.
Support local news outlets
Read or listen—then, donate to keep them going, if you can. (You can support The Citizen here.) Democracy depends on a vital media.
Stock—or start—a free fridge
“Freedges,” as they are also called, offer fresh fruit and vegetables, prepared meals and non-perishable items for free for all. They’re usually outside and can be accessed by anyone anytime. Philly is now home to about 30 (find one near you to stock)—but as our hunger rates continue to rise, we could still use more. Here’s everything you need to know to start one.
Support local businesses
Taking care of plants relieves stress; it’s a real, live activity in a world of excess screen time; and you get to enjoy exceptionally tasty, fresh produce. And growing even a small amount of the food you eat—and inspiring your friends and neighbors to do the same—can also help mitigate climate change. Here, local urban ag professionals share their hard-won tips on growing food in the city, whether you have a small yard, rooftop deck or just a sunny windowsill.
That pothole, faulty light or neighborhood eyesore everyone is ignoring? Be the one to call and report it.
Support Philly students, teachers and schools
There is a lot of work to do to help children recover from the physical, emotional and academic ravages of Covid-19—not least the achievement gap that has widened between well-off and less well-off students because of virtual learning (or not). Whether or not you’re a parent, these kids are our future. Here are 18+ ways you can support our students and teachers. While you’re at it, learn how you can help 20+ local education organizations working to lift up our students and educators.
Trees purify our air; store tons of carbon dioxide; and reduce residential energy costs. Their masses of living roots absorb and hold water, reducing flooding, and their leaf canopy lessens the impact of rain drops on the ground, decreasing erosion. Their shade and transpiration magic reduce temperatures by as much as 20 degrees. And they raise property values: Houses on streets with a lot of trees see a 10 percent boost in their sales price!
The problem is, Philly is actually losing trees. So it’s all hands on deck; through Tree Philly, you can request a free street tree, or join PHS’s Tree Tender program to help plant trees in neighborhoods that need it most.
Attend a civic meeting every month
Whether a school board meeting, City Council, your neighborhood association—try even just one to start with. Then see if it can become a habit.
Start biking (and drive less)
Once you have a bike, you have access to free transportation, free parking, basically zero traffic, and the sweet Philly wind on your face. Get a bike—and helmet—at Velo Jawn, Firehouse Bicycles, Cycles PHL, Via Bicycle or check out your neighborhood free group to scoop up a used ride. Check out the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s “Where to Ride” tab for the safest spot and hit the road. Check out our rookie’s guide for more.
RELATED: Ideas We Should Steal: Less Driving
MORE WAYS TO MAKE PHILLY BETTER
Photo courtesy Meredith Edlow for the Economy League