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February 28, 2024
99% of the best things you can do for your town don’t require anyone’s permission


Building community in your small town sounds like a daunting task. It’s easy to get bogged down, thinking there’s too much to do, that you’d need too many permissions or it would take too much money. The reality of building community is it’s a change of mindset to Take Small Steps.

I’ve seen lists before of things you can do for your city, but none written for small towns. Let’s fix that. Here are 100+ small-town-approved ideas to build community. 

  1. Hang out downtown, in the park, in plazas and pocket parks. Take a book or a snack. Invite friends. Have conversations. 
  2. Cook extra and share with a neighbor.
  3. Introduce yourself when meeting someone new. 
  4. Smile and remind people of your name. 
  5. Walk. Park and walk to run errands. Park further from where you want to go.
  6. Hold a (music) jam session in your neighborhood or downtown.
  7. Bike. Bike your errands. Bike to work. Bike to the park.
  8. Make a list of everything in your town you can walk or bike to in 30 minutes. You might be surprised.
  9. Attend the arts and music events at local schools and colleges.
  10. Go to community performances and events. Cheer. Share praise online.
  11. Eat outside at local cafes and at picnic tables and benches downtown.
  12. Sit down for a meal with someone not like you. Someone from the community who is from a significantly different background, ethnicity, class, income level, or education. Listen.
  13. Spend more time in your front yard and on your front porch.
  14. Dress the front of your house to be inviting. Set out extra chairs and invite friends to join you. 
  15. Drop in on the library and ask about what they have besides books. 
  16. Start a hashtag for sharing good news and ideas in your town. Comment, like and share good things.
  17. Take pictures of things you like in your town and share them online.
  18. Shop the farmers’ market. Try something. Share pics online of what you cook.
  19. Walk into a local store. Take 5 friends. Spend $10 each.
  20. Walk into a local store. Take 2 pictures of something you didn’t know they had for sale. Post online.
  21. Start or join a walking or running group. 
  22. Make and share a list of every public walking trail or meditation path in your town including those in parks, on church grounds, at schools or colleges, and along public waterways.  
  23. Enter something you’ve created or grown in the county fair. 
  24. Start a community betterment group. Pick items from this list or make up your own ways to improve your town. 
  25. Plant a tree.
  26. Plant flowers in unexpected places.
  27. Dig and divide plants and put the new plants where others can see and appreciate them. Ask neighbors if they have plants you can divide and share.
  28. Start a positive hashtag for your community like #IfOurTown (#IfAlva or #IfPullman) and post positive things with it.
  29. Participate in art walks, downtown strolls and evening events. 
  30. Hang string lights.
  31. Start a rock hunt. Find some small rocks, paint them and hide them outdoors downtown. Make a hashtag or online group so people can post photos when they find them. 
  32. Plant an extra row in your garden to share. 
  33. Grow a community garden with neighbors. 
  34. Set up a table in a public place or at a farmers market to give away extra produce. 
  35. Donate extra produce to the food bank. 
  36. Put googly eyes on something. Use non-destructive adhesive like poster tack.
  37. Talk to your neighbors.
  38. Lead a photo walk. Invite friends to walk around and take pictures of good things. Notice things you like and share them.
  39. Host a street dance. Or empty lot dance or parking lot dance or…
  40. Start a sing-along. Anywhere, anytime.
  41. Wash the outside windows on an empty building.
  42. Pull weeds from public flower beds and boxes.
  43. Shovel snow for a neighbor.
  44. Talk to young people. Ask about what they want in your community. 
  45. Sweep your own sidewalk. 
  46. Find something that needs a simple repair, like a wooden flower box or a loose board on an empty building. Repair it.
  47. Work outdoors. Take your laptop for coworking in the park or at tables downtown.
  48. Carry a small trash bag when you walk or run to pick up trash. 
  49. Send written thank you cards and letters to people who do good things in town. 
  50. Start a Coffee and Calendars gathering. Invite people for coffee and ask them to bring the calendars and plans for any groups, organizations or boards they work with. Share community events and plans with each other. 
  51. Make a cardboard playground. All you need is cardboard, scissors, tape, random material and stuff, and kids.
  52. Host a pop-up business from a local crafter or artist in a building or business you own. 
  53. Plant herbs in empty flower boxes or pots. 
  54. Paint a temporary mural on cloth, cardboard, coroplast (plastic sign material), or sheet metal. Hang it using magnets, sticky tack, or bungee cords.
  55. Put up directional signs to all kinds of things: parks, murals, art, businesses.
  56. Use your town’s waterfront, creek, lake or river. Mow and clean up a small patch and hold an open picnic to start. Talk about what you’d like to do or see. Can you boat or kayak?
  57. Add benches.
  58. Host a game night with your neighbors in your home. 
  59. Host a game day at a local park. 
  60. Create chalk art on sidewalks, bare walls, and retaining walls.
  61. Display fabric art everywhere.
  62. Host lawn croquet and invite your neighbors. 
  63. Welcome newcomers to your town with a dinner or event. 
  64. Hire a young person to help you out.
  65. Make and share a list of free activities in your town like public fishing, bird watching, or outdoor exercise equipment. 
  66. Start a book club, painting club, or learning club. 
  67. Feature local art for sale on the walls of your business. 
  68. Paint something that needs it like a picnic table, bench or pole.
  69. Barter and trade with each other. Loan each other tools.
  70. Create a library of things: tools, cake pans, kitchen tools, musical instruments, all free to check out like library books.
  71. Start an Old Geezers Club, where older folks can bring their tools and share a workspace with anyone who wants to make something.
  72. Hold a repair cafe: bring together people who can fix things (including sewing) and let anyone bring anything that needs fixed.
  73. Make a free-stuff wall or space.
  74. Put out books for free in neighborhoods that are far from the library or near a gathering place like benches.
  75. Listen to stories from older people and people who are new in town. Document and share them.
  76. Hold a potluck with your neighbors.
  77. Start a poetry reading or writing marathon. 
  78. Create a nature viewing area on your property.
  79. Return your broken paving (like cracked parking lots) to durable drivable grass.
  80. Start practicing yoga in the park and invite a friend. 
  81. Give away extra plants or pots. 
  82. Host a block party on your block.
  83. Host a community dinner, lots of people at one long table. Put conversation starters on the tables.
  84. Fill a box with outdoor toys. Place it at a local park in the mornings, and bring it in in the evening. 
  85. Host neighborhood parents for an evening wrapping presents and putting together toys before Christmas.
  86. Show a movie outdoors.
  87. Mow an empty lot or a neighbor’s lawn.
  88. Improvise a public wading pool: kiddie pools, livestock water tanks.
  89. Improvise a public splash pad: drill holes in plastic pipes or a garden hose.
  90. Tell a traditional story or ghost story to young people. 
  91. Display quilts or fabric arts on a railing, any railing.
  92. Set up a telescope and show people other planets.
  93. Add positivity to online groups. Volunteer to moderate comments. 
  94. Use an empty building you own for an activity or event. 
  95. Donate all or part of your building windows for community events or children’s art. 
  96. Teach a workshop in a skill or craft. 
  97. Add a public wifi channel to your business or personal router. Post a sign. Find public wifi anywhere in town and post signs so others can use it.
  98. Start a neighborhood cleanup. Clean your own yard and invite others to join you. 
  99. Notice fruit and nut trees that go unharvested in public places. Harvest and share the crop with the food bank or senior center.
  100. Plant vines or flowers to grow up the public side of a fence. 
  101. Decorate chain link fences with art or colorful slats. 
  102. Make a “What to do in (town)” Pinterest board. 
  103. Borrow an empty lot to start a popup market. 
  104. Join a public art project like Stream of Dreams. www.streamofdreams.org 
  105. Join a beautification project like America in Bloom. www.americainbloom.org
See also  Holiday Tips for Small Businesses

If you like these, reply and add your own ideas!

Updates

This post was originally published in March of 2019 and updated in January 2024 from 61 ideas to over 100.

Join Deb Brown and me at SaveYour.Town for a short video on Building a Unified Community.

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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.