A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2021


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Neighborhood Tours


by Fred Gillette




This Minimal Traditional style home with Colonial Revival influence was

built around 1937 for Ira and Mildred Whaley.  The family owned this

house from 1937 until 1946.  Mildred had a colorful family past…


…And so begins a tour booklet description of the Hollston Hills neighborhood of Knoxville, Tennessee, produced by the Knox Heritage group.



Unless you live on a Gray Line tour route, you may not think of your immediate neighborhood as a potential touring destination.  Yet if a number of people find interest and stimulation visiting a certain collection of places, that collection may then reasonably be deemed worthy of an organized visit, i.e., a tour.  Besides the more conventional and widely publicized tourist destinations, there have long been special interest tours of historical sites, buildings, and significant artifacts that draw visiting enthusiasts.  There are tours of places mentioned in the writings of particular authors.  There are wineries, murals, tunnels, manufacturing sites, homes, harbors, cemeteries, crime sites, and sewers. Why not a tour of appealing places near your home that represent local achievements or that showcase noteworthy architecture or landscape design or that have interesting stories associated with them? 



Many neighborhoods already have their own organized tours and tour guides. Although outside visitors are welcome, these tours are primarily designed with neighborhood residents in mind. Usually such tours attempt to include sites that appeal to the widest spectrum of neighbors possible.  Often of greatest interest is hearing about particular neighborhood homes--usually emphasizing their design.  But sometimes there are other reasons for notoriety.  Those with gardening interests appreciate hearing more about local places of horticultural significance such as a local park or a private garden.  Those interested in neighborhood history will appreciate hearing the story behind certain neighborhood public and private developments such as commercial buildings and transportation infrastructure. After a tour has existed for awhile, its organizers typically gather much additional information from tour participants.  This further enriches the presentation, be it in print or some other medium.






Why organize neighborhood tours ?


If you’re addressing an unmet desire on the part of neighbors to learn more about their immediate community, you already have established your most important reason to put together a tour.  My own neighborhood organization of some years back was inspired to put together a docent-led walking tour when we heard that our city, Oakland, California, was organizing a series of walking tours of different parts of town.  If we put together a neighborhood tour, we would get free publicity, piggybacking on the city-wide tours project.  We hastily assembled a tour and were amazed at the turnout.  We could see that this was something we could do ourselves on an ongoing basis, without needing any further help from the city.  We also quickly realized that such a tour was not only fulfilling an unmet neighborhood interest, it was meeting other important goals of our neighborhood organization.  As with most neighborhood organizations, we always felt that one of our most important reasons for existing was to promote neighborhood awareness.  This, in turn, could lead to more cooperative efforts to carry out neighborhood improvement projects.  As neighbors gain more knowledge and appreciation of their surroundings, they are more likely to become active in neighborhood advancement. 


Considering costs, logistics, and the desire to maximize our effect, we chose to produce a printed version of the tour, following the route and focus of the original walking tour.  We were able to inexpensively print a booklet and promote and sell copies through our organization’s newsletter and a supportive local bookstore.  As we proceeded with this plan, we could soon see that our hopes and objectives were readily being met.  The walking tour booklet sold well.  We received plentiful positive feedback and felt gratified that we were allowing many neighbors to achieve a new degree of familiarity and connection with their neighborhood.  What’s more, we were especially pleased to see our project blossom into one of our most successful fundraisers ever.



Who should carry this out?


Being able to obtain the assistance of many neighbors with a broad range of expertise helped us put together a good walking tour narrative that contained far more information than any one neighbor had access to on his or her own.  So, of course, having your tour produced by a neighborhood organization is a very appealing path. However, there are a great many other potentially successful production models.  Someone could approach this as an enterprise.  A local bookstore operator would be in a particularly good position to launch and promote such a project.  A social service organization or volunteer organization or a religious organization could also undertake such a project, having it fit well within such a group’s objectives and values. 




Written or guided?


As different people have different preferred approaches to taking in information, one person may have different favored media paths, depending on circumstances.  It would probably be ideal to produce both led tours and printed (or electronic) versions, catering to a variety of tastes.  A print version, of course, has the best prospects for generating revenue. It could be marketed through a neighborhood organization web site, sold cooperatively through neighborhood shops or be sold to those participating in led walking tours.




The steps


Following, are the probable steps necessary to produce a walking tour, regardless of the medium:


-         Establish your or your organization’s goals and objectives in taking on such a project. 


-         Determine what would constitute success of such a project, preferable in terms that are observable or measurable.


-         Have a planning session or meeting devoted to identifying neighborhood points of interest for inclusion in your tour. 


-         Assure that there is a plan for covering production and promotion costs.


-         Identify individuals likely to supply you with details regarding the places of interest or likely to identify tour objectives themselves.  Such individuals may include long time residents or even as yet unknown residents, occupants or users of the places of interest.  Often local librarians and long time merchants can provide information and leads to others who might be helpful.


-         Assign tasks, such as research and promotion.  If there is to be a print or electronic version of the tour, this includes graphics production, map drawing, and composing.  Even if this is a one person production, these tasks should be clearly defined.


-         Produce a schedule of your activities.


-         Secure any needed funding.


-         Proceed with carrying out the production tasks mentioned above.


-         Promote your product


-         Evaluate your results.


-         If necessary or desired, modify your tour to reflect needed changes or suggestions you have collected through evaluation.







If this is to be a tour booklet or electronic version, you should seek as many outlets for its sale as possible.  Although a local bookstore has been mentioned as a natural distribution point, many other neighborhood merchants may be willing to sell it as well, or even just post a notice of its existence in a shop window.  You should also consider online sales, especially if this is being produced by a neighborhood organization with a website.  If you’re a non profit organization, you won’t have to collect or pay sales tax, but you will, eventually, have to report income from sales.






A docent-led tour need cost no more than the producer’s and tour guide’s time.  A printed booklet could be done very inexpensively with a home computer and printer, but if you desire some more professional touches, like binding or mid-page stapling, you might want to use the services of a professional printer.  The printing of 500 copies of a 12 page, 8 ½ by 5 ½ stapled booklet could easily come in under $500.




Please note that even for those who do not go on a neighborhood tour or buy a tour booklet, just spotting a promotional flyer in a window suggests that this neighborhood is possessed of features that may deserve their attention and appreciation.  Similarly, those observing a group of their neighbors walking down the street and viewing a place of interest may lead them to consider that perhaps their attention may also be warranted.


 As already stated, the benefits of producing a tour of your neighborhood are many and the effects may be lasting and profound.  Additionally, this whole process may readily move beyond the domains of fulfillment and importance and enter the realm of fun.

















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