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Guest Blog: Collapsing Bike Racks and Securing Community-Based Organizations
Submitted by Ana on Tue, 09/29/2009 - 13:05.
My bike rack crashed my dinner party. Better said, my bike rack crashed in on my dinner party; either way, it was an uninvited guest.
Let me explain: My roommate and I recently incorporated the bike into our Urban Living Master Plan. Buses and Metro are great for getting to work, but a jaunt around town on a Saturday afternoon – especially with the perfect fall weather DC is fast approaching – is best enjoyed on a bicycle. Not to mention the hipster factor. So, wholly disregarding any storage restraints our garage-less, city townhouse imposed, we bought bicycles. We also bought an indoor bike rack.
The bike rack we purchased, a massive, floor-to-ceiling tension rod contraption, hoists two bikes in a precarious looking but purportedly safe design – one above the other. From a distance the brushed metal backbone and supporting arms blend in with the frame of the bike, giving the illusion that the bicycles are suspended in thin air.
It arrived at our home ready-to-assemble. We immediately set to work in the dining room. In city townhomes, space is at a premium. And the merits the dining room offered as a makeshift garage were undeniable: not only was the dining room alee from the flow of both front and back door foot traffic, but its one exposed brick wall would be the perfect backdrop for displaying our new, environmentally conscious take on transportation. Very city chic.
And that is why the bike rack ended up in my dining room. Why it fell down – an almost graceful, top-first tumble into the middle of a dinner party, as if someone had given one, decisive shove to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the town below were a spread of lemon risotto, strawberry salad and white wine – is much simpler: we did not secure the tension rod at the top or at the bottom.
Mea culpa. A foolhardy decision to say the least; however, it, like everything else in this post, has an explanation: we didn’t have the proper tools, we went in unprepared. My roommate and I assembled the bike rack according to the directions, but when it came time to add the final tightening to the tension rod’s bottom and top secures, we didn’t have the required socket wrench. “Good enough,” we though. Apparently not.
Thankfully no one was hurt in The Great Bike Rack Fall, but back at work the following morning, relaying the night’s events to my coworkers, I realized that the story of my falling bike rack offers insight for community programs. Bear with me. Securing programs from the bottom – in the distinct context of its community – and from the top – among the institutions within which the program operates – and having the tools to do so are the keys to a successful initiative.
Through my work with the Innovation Center I’ve found that for most community-based organizations, stability is neither automatic nor assumed. The threat of toppling over is all too real – say, for example, when a founding leader moves on, budget cuts kick in, or political will shifts. But those organizations with true staying power – organizations that have stood the test of time and struggle – exhibit certain traits in common: strong supports at both the bottom and the top. These supports offer organizations different, but nevertheless equally important, benefits.
Grassroots stakeholders – individual residents or neighborhood groups, for example – are traditionally the “bottom,” or foundation, of community-based work. Organizations that take time to nurture these relationships benefit in so many ways; not the least among such benefits is the ability of organizational leaders to identify and mobilize specific community assets and, over the long-term, track ever-changing local concerns. At the same time, community-based organizations are undoubtedly also affected by funding and policy decisions made at “the top” – in other words, within formal institutions with their own interests and agendas. When a community-based organization reaches out to these system-level actors and engages them as allies, they are more likely to make decisions that favor local work.
And how to secure this top-down and bottom-up support? Preparation and relationships. Both take time, both take patience; both are worth their while ten times over.
*Let the Innovation Center guide you as you work to secure your organization at all levels of the community. Our toolkits and activities offer pointed, practical solutions and advice; our training and consulting services provide a strategic, longer-term approach.