Home On the Agenda Not Just Fun and Games: Sustainably Engaging Communities and Building Resilience

Not Just Fun and Games: Sustainably Engaging Communities and Building Resilience

December 22, 2020

“A game that engages residents around environmental resilience, infrastructure projects and the ecology of Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn.” 

“What is Jamaica Bay Jeopardy, Alex?” 

Public Agenda and the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay, through Cycles of Resilience work funded by the New York Community Trust, recently partnered with residents of the Canarsie section of Brooklyn to create an interactive custom version of the popular game show for neighbors to learn more about their community. “Jamaica Bay Jeopardy” is an example of Public Agenda’s use of games to bring people together for fun, educational events focused on community priorities. 

Games are not only a fun and familiar way to engage residents, they can put important information in the hands of people who may not always have access to it. This includes residents across age groups, including children and older members of the community. At Public Agenda, we have also created “Idlewild Family Feud” and the Canarsie Emergency Recovery Game with community-based organizations in New York City in order to engage residents on topics ranging from environmental resilience to recovery from natural disasters. In the Canarsie Emergency Recovery Game, players have to make the right choices to safely return to their home after a major hurricane, start their personal recovery, and contribute to the community emergency response. Idlewild Family Feud is a fun twist on the classic game show format where contestants form teams to see who can guess their neighbors’ knowledge about the local ecology of Southeastern Queens and community fun facts such as the best place to go grocery shopping. While games are fun and educational for residents, they also empower and work as problem solving tools when time for deliberation and action planning is built into the game process.

Games also lead participants down unexpected and productive paths through open dialogue. For example, while playing Jamaica Bay Jeopardy, the answer to the question “How many agencies have jurisdiction over Jamaica Bay?” sparked a lively discussion on how the city invests in communities of color. Sonel V., a long-time resident of Canarsie, found the fact that more than twenty city, state and federal agencies preside over the region both elucidating and concerning. She questioned “why are so many agencies pouring money into Jamaica Bay to restore the ecosystem? Whenever I see agencies investing in neglected communities I begin to question their motivations. We are the last community to gentrify. It was Bed Stuy, then East New York, Brownsville and then us. We are the last undeveloped community with access to the water.” Sonel’s concerns around gentrification were echoed by several residents who found the forum a safe space to discuss often controversial issues that directly affect them and their neighbors.

As the evening wrapped up, several residents learned through playing the game that a popular fishing hole in the community was extremely polluted and the fish were contaminated and unfit to eat. They were concerned that residents were not aware that consuming the fish was hazardous to their health, so they agreed to work together to put up signage near the fishing spot cautioning their fellow neighbors about the health risks associated with consuming the fish they caught. 

As with Jamaica Bay Jeopardy, Idlewild Family Feud and the Canarsie Emergency Recovery Games are enabling residents to take action. Residents throughout Jamaica Bay have played Idlewild Family Feud at the Eastern Queen Alliance annual gala, generating curiosity about ecological concerns in the community, while others are using the Canarsie Emergency Recovery Game to solicit feedback from residents on emergency recovery that will help shape the creation of a community-driven emergency recovery plan. 

Moving from entertainment to circulating important information to action illustrates the full cycle of engagement work for Canarsie and it points to the potential to catalyze change in communities across New York City and beyond.