Why neighborhood bumper stickers will improve your city

Anyone can put a bumper sticker on their car. It puzzles me why more neighborhoods don’t embrace them.

Neighborhood bumper stickers cultivate a sense of belonging, and are an easy way to get involved without heavy commitment–you might not be ready for the zoning committee, or organizing a block party, but you can put a sticker on your car.

Relating to your neighbors

There is no better way to relate to someone than by saying  “me too”. And we usually say it without actually saying it. “Me too” might come in the form of a story, a shared memory, or the highly-visible placement of a sticker.

One way folks in my former hometown said “me too” to each other was with this slogan:

were all here cause were not all there1 - Copy

“We’re all here, because we’re not all there.” Port Townsend, Washington.








…kinda explains some things doesn’t it.

Overlooked benefits

Here are some tangible ways a neighborhood bumper sticker might benefit you and your neighbors:

  • Unity. It gives the sense that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. But that something is small enough where you’re not just another cog in the machine.
  • Build trust. It doesn’t just give you that sense of pride and belonging, it also affects your neighbor’s–transforming feelings of apathy into the warm-and-fuzzies.
  • Connect outside your neighborhood. I often have blinders on when going to the grocery store. But when I see a neighborhood bumper sticker in the parking lot I become much more aware of possibly running into a friend. These casual encounters are what make neighborhoods come alive.
  • Organic accountability. Your bumper sticker makes you an extension of the people you live around. What you do in public will affect the reputation of your neighborhood for better or  worse.

Forming diverse subcultures

In his book A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander describes how when cities are too diverse, or too homogenous they end up looking bland.

Too Diverse:

“…people are confronted by impossible variety—the variety becomes a slush, which then concentrates merely on the most obvious.”

Too Homogenous:

“…people are forever leaning on one another, trying to be whatever will not displease the others, afraid of being themselves.”

But when neighborhoods possess both a strong culture within while maintaining an openness to outsiders, a colorful “MOSAIC OF SUBCULTURES (8)” emerges. Here is one solution he offers:

“Do everything possible to enrich the cultures and subcultures of the city, by breaking the city…into a vast mosaic of small and different subcultures, each with its own spatial territory, and each with the power to create its own distinct life style. Make sure that the subcultures are small enough, so that each person has access to the full variety of life styles in the subcultures near his own.”

2013-08-23 Bumper sticker Mosaic of subculturesJPG (500x499)

Diagram by Christopher Alexander “A Pattern Language”.

A bumper sticker is an excellent way to enrich your neighborhood’s culture.

For the Pattern Language connoisseurs out there I recommend reading: MOSAIC OF SUBCULTURES (8), SUBCULTURE BOUNDARY (13), and IDENTIFIABLE NEIGHBORHOOD (14).

The making of a sticker

About two years ago I moved into a neighborhood called the Georgian Acres. At that time there existed no subculture-enriching, neighbor-to-neighbor-enhancing bumper sticker. But that all changed…

…One day me and my neighbor John were discussing how to make our community better. Then it hit us, “We need a bumper sticker!”

The only challenge standing in the way was the fact that we wanted it to represent the people living here, but we didn’t know anyone.

So we did what we always do when faced with difficulties:

Drink beer on the front porch.

After weeks of mental labor, and pints of Ale we settled on the solution to simply overlook our challenge, and deal with the consequences later. We (he being the designer and me the encourager) came up with a design and sent it off to the screen printer.

This is how it turned out:

Georgian Acres bumper sticker designed by John Bell

Georgian Acres bumper sticker designed by John Bell

So far a couple dozen neighbors put them on their cars.  The only negative feedback we’ve gotten is the color, which I’m happy to modify. I’m also open to a complete redesign if it means including more neighbors.

 Your turn

Does your neighborhood have it’s own bumper sticker?

What barriers exist to keep people from participating?

What has been your experience with neighborhood bumper stickers?

I would love to hear your feedback on these questions.

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Posted in A Pattern Language, Community Building, Neighborhood

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