Do Nothing In Particular

by Jeff Littlejohn

Recently, I was “pouring” over a recently purchased book, The Great Neighborhood Book, authored by Jay Walljasper.  Within contains a storehouse of things—simple and fun—people can do to build trusting and meaningful relationships with each other right where they live.

The subtitle “A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking” suggests it’s not a heavy read.  It isn’t.  Short snippet ideas like “going to school on a walking bus,” “making a paradise out of a parking lot,” “intersection repair,” “fighting crime is a walk in the park,” etc, keep you wanting more!  Who thinks of such cool things!

Delightfully, there at the very end of the book Walljasper concludes with his chapter, “Do Nothing in Particular.”  With glee, let me share it with you.


“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world,” wrote the great American essayist E.B. White.  “This makes it hard to plan the day.”

Ah, that’s the dilemma.  You live in a nice place.  But it could be nicer—if only the park were fixed up or the traffic slowed down, if the schools were better or the business district brighter.

So what to do first?  You’d like to plop down on a bench for while, soak up the sunshine, listen to the birds sing and the kids play, or just watch the world go by.  But you really ought to be organizing a meeting, handing out flyers, and enlisting volunteers for the big fundraiser.

Actually, it’s important to do both.  Without taking time to truly savor your neighborhood, you lose touch with why you love it in the first place.  Soon, all you see is what’s wrong.  And that quickly diminishes your effectiveness as a community advocate.  No one is inspired by harried, humorless leaders who would really rather be doing something else.

On a strategic as well as a personal level it’s smart to take a long stroll every evening, linger at the sidewalk café, stop for a chat with neighbors, and just generally revel in all the great things your community offers.  Otherwise, what’s the point of living there?

In the Irish Hill neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, the Professional Porch Sitters Union is coming to order.  Crow Hollister, who founded the union, explains …that the organization attracts hard-working activists, professionals, artists, mothers, revolutionaries, and gardeners.  “People like you,” he says.  “They work hard, volunteer in their community, sit on boards, have schedules to keep and chores that need tending.” An agenda is dutifully handed out for each meeting, but there is nothing written on it.  Iced tea is served, followed by beer.  Stories begin to flow.  Andy describes how his neighbor was visited by the windshield wiper fairy.  Mike has the inside scoop on how to get the slabs of concrete they use on public benches for free.  Then, Hollister dutifully reports, “a neighbor walking her dog is enticed to join us.  A lot is getting accomplished.”

The Professional Porch Sitters Union began on Crow Hollister’s comfy front porch in 1999 and now features chapters across the country.  Hollister encourages you to start your own, keeping in mind that the organization is governed by only one rule: “Sit down a spell.  That can wait.”  He’d like to hear how it goes, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get around to writing him.

* * *
Do you hear Walljasper’s message?  Thanks Jay, I do.  I glimpse earthly images of a heavenly reality—life and life to the full! (Jn. 10:10)

The joy of “soaking in” life and life together.  Often we are so dang busy we miss much of that laid right before us.

In this work, however we label it:  mission, ministry, community development, lets do nothing in particular first, but to smell the roses—even with our neighbors.  JL

Excerpted from the Great Neighborhood Book  by Jay Walljasper (New Society Publishers).  The book was written with Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit organization that has been helping citizens improve their communities for 30 years.  You can order the book from  Walljasper is a senior fellow at PPS.

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