Five Blocks Square-Neighborhood Mapping

Do you know what is within five blocks of your house or apartment? Did you know that five blocks is the distance most people will walk instead of drive to visit the grocery store, café or homes in their neighborhood? Have you noticed if homes in your neighborhood are older, newer, modern or eclectic? How does your home and family fit within the context of other neighborhood homes, buildings, open spaces, people and pets?

In a five block walk through your neighborhood lies the fabric of community – person to person and street by street, the stories within five blocks capture the essence of the place we live, learn, work and play.

Five Blocks Square is the first in the series of If this House Could Talk community story workshops because learning the neighborhood is the foundation for creating a sense of place, context or simply the “container” where all the stories reside.

Five Blocks Square teaches neighbors learn together how they define and illustrate their neighborhood and its stories. Learn how to tell your own stories of engage your neighbors to deepen the stories.

The Step-by-Step Process

Step One: Walk your neighborhood. Take a sketchpad, and pen or pencil with you. Taking a camera along can also help you capture special features to remember for later that you don’t want to take the time to draw during your walk.  For your first walk, give yourself a couple hours to identify specific elements that make up your neighborhood. You may want to talk additional walks to spot features you missed or want to see again.

“The act of walking your neighborhood will usually trigger stories,” says Joy Gee, the contributing artist/illustrator for the If This House Could Talk community story project.  What you are looking for are elements that prompt stories for you, the essential fabric that ties your neighborhood together in your memory. “I have a background in architecture and I am always looking at the styles of houses – craftsman, bungalow, for example,” Gee remarks.

One way to begin thinking about mapping your neighborhood is noting physical objects and spaces:

  • Historic landmarks or signage;
  • Distinctive architectural styles and design elements;
  • Estimated age of buildings;
  • If buildings are new in an old neighborhood, reflect on what could have been there before based on nearby existing structures;
  • Single or multi-family dwellings and businesses;
  • Open space, trees, landscaping, parks or gardens; and
  • Width of the street and distinctive lighting features.

Drawing a grid street names and to identify special features will be helpful when you create the illustrated map at home or during a workshop with friends.

“We can tell our stories on a map, the cultural experiences, the architecture, and the flowers and trees. I can see how each one of those can be on an overlay or be entirely different maps. People remember their own stories. No map will be the same.”

“In fact, says Gee, “people could have a map of their favorite five-blocks in any neighborhood where they have memories. It is all about remembering their stories, even when we are remembering the neighborhood of 25 years ago on a map… I remember trolley cars and going with my mom to the acupuncturist as a child in my neighborhood … We can put those elements on our map.”

 Step two: Host a Five Blocks Square workshop. Invite neighbors to your home or some central meeting place within the neighborhood to prepare the illustrated maps together. Allow two hours for the workshop. Tap the talents of your neighbors to see if anyone can share their skills by helping neighbors learn how to create their maps. Consider asking a local artist to donate a couple hours or a local art student interested in developing artist portfolio materials to guide the participants as they create the maps.

The workshop supports people through the map-making process, so it is important to allow time for people to answer questions about drawing and completing the maps, as well as having time to share stories of the bakery around the corner, the intimate restaurant that just opened up or the home where a celebrity once lived.

Since all the workshops are free, ask everyone to bring his or her own pens or colored pencils to the map-making workshop. Art supplies can be expensive. Ask for donations to purchase what you need if no one has materials.

Step three: Be sure everyone knows when and where the next workshops will be held and have invitations or postcards ready to hand out before everyone leaves.

More story ideas…

  • Use the concept of Five Blocks Square to create quilting and art workshops designed for children, adults or families (at home or with a the library partner) or as a fundraiser for improving the neighborhood, a specific home or other designated cause.
  • Display the quilts alongside the neighborhood stories as works of art during the “If This House Could Talk” walk.

Suggested visuals:

  • An example of an illustrated five-block map
  • Drawn outline of five-blocks on a real map
  • Art supplies, note pad, camera
  • Featured homes
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About Janice

Janice is an accomplished writer and passionate about sharing and telling stories of people, places and animals in the wild.
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