Who and what are the people, places and things really make your neighborhood a great place to live, work and play?

This question is at the heart of neighborhood asset mapping, and was the focus of a workshop for neighborhood leaders presented by Data You Can Use this past fall. We held the event at the Washington Park Library Community Room, which is a great space for communal events. We appreciate our public libraries as an important asset for us and for people we work with, and Milwaukee Public Library is a great resource for books, information and a lot more!

Observations from the workshop from the attendees

  • “I learned [a lot] about other neighborhoods & communities [in Milwaukee].”
  • “[I] realize how many assets I have in my neighborhood.”
  • “[This] broadened my view of an asset.”

I lead a session along with  Carrie Koss Vallejo and Katie Pritchard. We decided to introduce the concept of Neighborhood Asset Mapping through a series of exercises:

  • Begin by describing your own personal assets—strengths, resources, skills. Share some examples with the group.
  • Consider the benefits of discussing things in terms of assets rather than problems or deficits.
  • Discuss the concept of a “neighborhood asset”  from the Asset Based Community Development Institute.
  • Ask individuals to  list the assets that are in their neighborhood.
  • Break into groups to share assets and discuss findings. For a sample of assets identified see here.
  • Reconvene the full group to discuss how asset mapping can help identify gaps in a neighborhood and opportunities for connecting.

As I was learning about asset mapping from them, it was great to rely on the attendees’ expertise while planning for the event, and to have them on hand during the day!

What is neighborhood asset mapping and who is it for?

Neighborhood asset maps, or “Asset Based Community Development” is a term coined by the ABCD Institute out of Northwestern University. While a more detailed description can be found ts on their website, the basic rationale is this:

Without the capacity for change, neighborhood change may not happen. Focusing first on what assets a neighborhood has, and where the opportunities and gaps are can reduce the effort to make things happen, which increases a neighborhood’s capacity for change.

That statement sounds good, but what does that mean for a resident on a block?

Making change happen in a neighborhood takes effort, time and resources. One of the most important parts of any change process is to understand your existing resources so that you can build from what you have. This is really at the heart of the work of Data You Can Use and is what Neighborhood Asset Mapping is all about.

In short, asset mapping is a way to collaboratively identify and visually describe assets and to use them as the basis of  building stronger, sustainable communities.

So who is neighborhood asset mapping for and who should use it? It is a tool for all stakeholders in a neighborhood or community. That includes residents, property owners, community organizations, community organizers and government. The collaborative process of asset mapping relies on the knowledge and insights of the residents and stakeholders who live and work in the community. The focus on identifying existing resources rather than deficits is more action oriented and can allow neighborhood residents to begin to link resources together and begin to address issues that have a more powerful  effect.

What can you do with neighborhood asset maps?

It is common for neighborhoods that are struggling with a particular issue to work inside their neighborhood and seek outside funding and assistance to help make change happen. One of the challenges of working with multiple outside partners is this: what is valuable to a resident in a neighborhood is not always what appears valuable to outside eyes. While not always the case, DYCU believes strongly on a “resident-first” approach. When mapping assets, it is important to start with the voices of people who live and work in a neighborhood, then to bring in outside resources to help satisfy that identified want. This practice helps ensure that the needs of the community are clearly represented in community development work.

Data You Can Use has created asset maps, and some of those are available on our web site. Stay tuned for updates!

As much need or want as a neighborhood might have, identifying existing resources within the community is an important first step.  We are excited about partnering with others to use asset mapping in neighborhood development and in further exploring ways to assure that the voice of people who live and work in a neighborhood is integral to the work.

Want to learn more about Neighborhood Asset Mapping for your neighborhood? You can learn more about the ABCD Institute here and by contacting us.