Documenting Neighborhood Memories

by Tanya Zwahlen

This weekend, on behalf of the City of Rochester, we conducted outreach at the Bull’s Head Community Fair. This engagement was part of the Bull’s Head Brownfield Opportunity Area project, which we have been working on for more than a year. The purpose of the Community Fair was to encourage residents to become more involved in their community. There were bands, a reptile exhibit, tables by area organizations, and even a bike repair station.

​Christopher, Sue and Tanya spent the afternoon interviewing fair attendees about their favorite memory of the neighborhood. We heard about block parties, basketball games, bike shops, early morning jogs, snakes, and the former uses of 100 West Avenue, where the Salvation Army operates today. Before I share the videos, I want to post a few photographs of the event.

Documenting neighborhood memories by video demonstrates several planning practices that align with our core values.

  1. It’s a quick and easy go-to-them strategy that meets people where they are and as they are. We were in their neighborhood and the engagement required only 30 seconds of their time.
  2. The focus was on listening and documenting community knowledge. We did not try to tell attendees about the BOA existing conditions analysis, strategic sites, or vision statement. We. Just. Listened.
  3. The question we asked focused on people’s recollection about what is or has been good about Bull’s Head. The stories we heard will help us build upon existing assets with a neighborhood revitalization strategy attuned to what the neighborhood likes about itself today.
  4. Lastly, we wanted to be able to stay connected with fair attendees, so in order to receive free lunch, every attendee at the Bull’s Head Community Fair signed in and provided their email address and phone number, so they can be contacted about future community events.



We have never tried this engagement method before, and it took a bit of planning. I scrambled the week before to (unsuccessfully) fix our iPhone tripod, to buy and test a plug-in microphone to cut out background noise (see fluffy mouse on microphone attached to iPhone below; good purchase!) while Sue figured out the script to use when talking to fair attendees. While a few people told us they did not feel camera ready, it was easy to get people to talk about their memories. Especially youth! Another important detail of this engagement technique was to ask for written permission from all video subjects and parental permission from children before we filmed.
We always like to get out of the office and talk with community members. The next time we conduct this engagement technique, we will stress less about the iPhone tripod and bring a clipboard for the permission and release statements. We will also focus more on moving around event site to talk with people rather than calling them over to us. But equipment snafus aside, these videos are wonderful because they capture people as they are, speaking in their own words, with the backdrop of a vibrant, celebratory neighborhood event. Take a listen to see what I mean.

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