Every June, Katie Harper and her neighbours get together for an all-day street party. The festivities culminate in a communal feast, with dozens of tables lining their Toronto street.
The party has been a tradition for more than a dozen years, long before Katie and her husband, Patrick, moved in. It’s a hugely important part of how she got to know her neighbours, and keeps community bonds strong.
And it began, Katie says, because one neighbourhood mom, Lisa Hughes, wanted her children to be able to run free during summer vacation, knowing they could knock on anyone’s door on the street if they needed help, and be met with a smile and kind words. “So Lisa planned a party in order for the neighbours to get to know each other. And now it’s an institution.”
Katie, 39, thinks a lot about the power of small actions to create big change. As director of Project Neutral, she helps individuals and communities calculate their carbon footprint and learn what they can do to reduce it, one step at a time.
For Katie and Patrick, who are parents to five-year-old Hunter and have a baby on the way, those individual steps include minimizing meat consumption, cutting back on air travel (she hasn’t been on a plane in a couple of years and is trying to extend that streak for as long as possible), and choosing to live in a neighbourhood where she doesn’t need to drive to work (Patrick commutes using public transit). Their 100-year-old house, admittedly, could use an insulation upgrade, “but we try to be as smart as possible about conserving energy”— by using a smart thermostat, closing blinds and opening windows instead of using air conditioning, washing clothes in cold water, and rarely using their dryer.
Making — and, importantly, talking about — those small changes, she explains, is key to driving the larger-scale systemic change we need to meaningfully address climate change. After all, Katie knows firsthand the power of a single good idea and a little bit of action: she sees it every year at her block party, where friends, families, and neighbours of all ages come together to get to know each other and keep each other safe.