City of Irvine, CA

Cool Blocks Make Cool Neighbors

Shweta and Patrick

Published: October 30, 2022

It’s a common complaint: neighbors just don’t know each other as well as they used to.

So Switch Is On ambassadors, partners Patrick Franks and Shweta Sanjeev, decided to do something about it — and make their city of Irvine more climate-resilient along the way.

Now Shweta is a program manager for the city’s Cool Irvine program, a grass-roots initiative to reach citywide carbon neutrality by 2030. Using a $1 million grant, Irvine will implement a ground-up strategy in neighborhoods to become climate resilient through the Cool City Challenge, funded by the Empowerment Institute.

What Makes Peer-to-Peer Environmental Learning Different?

“When you get together at your neighbor’s home over wine, cheese, and snacks (and maybe a little local gossip) to discuss changes that benefit the environment, it creates a greater sense of connection than getting a flier in the mail or seeing a commercial on TV,” explains Patrick. “That’s why strengthening local communities is so important to climate initiatives. People are much more likely to take action if they learn about it from peers in their life who are doing the same.”

That’s the goal Shweta has for the City of Irvine’s (a Switch Is On partner) Cool Block program, an outreach initiative to boost residential climate action and help the city achieve its carbon-neutral goal by 2030.

Shweta manages the program’s volunteer block leaders. Each of these leaders is responsible for a section of their neighborhood and invites their neighbors to come on the Cool Block Journey, a series of in-home or Zoom presentations that discusses how individuals and communities can take impactful climate action. Leaders take their neighbors through a set of eight topics to learn about areas of carbon reduction, electrification, disaster resiliency, waste and water management, and more. They also help their neighbors create decarbonization plans and provide further resources for personal education.

“This program harnesses the strength of peer-to-peer influencing,” says Patrick, who is also a volunteer block leader. “Residents already know each other a bit, and get to know each other better in this process. So it’s a highly effective grassroots form of communication that starts from the bottom up to spread awareness and inspire lifestyle changes.”

What Can You Do?

Both Shweta and Patrick have embraced sustainability in their personal lives; in fact, to avoid transportation emissions, Patrick rides his bike seventeen miles to work!

But if you don’t feel ready for that yet, don’t worry. There are many other ways to make a meaningful impact on our climate. The pair recommend that homeowners use resources, including the Switch Is On and Cool Block websites, to make a decarbonization plan for their home. This can include a plan for replacing gas household appliances with cleaner electric ones as they wear out. For example, the couple replaced their broken gas-powered HVAC with an electric heat pump system last year. Patrick noted that the Switch Is On campaign’s searchable list of approved local contractors and electrification experts enables people to realize the plans they craft.

Other ways to help the environment include advocating for local eco-friendly policies, composting, buying secondhand, and using public or carbon-free transportation. And don’t discount the power of just being good neighbors! For example, fellow SIO ambassador Geoff Ainscow’s approachable friendliness and open-gate policy has helped him educate his neighborhood on sustainability.

“In America, many people lead very disconnected lives without much personal interaction,” says Patrick. “Cool Blocks, similar programs, and just getting to know your neighbors reverses that trend by building community trust and connection. That’s where you have real influence, and where we’ve found the powerful grassroots of local change.”

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