BIG IDEAS: Carolyn Behrman, Flashbulb and Cops on the Porch

Hey Carolyn Behrman, what’s the BIG IDEA with Flashbulb and Cops on the Porch?

photography by Svetla Morrison

See more of her work, including her Akron’s Big Ideas series, at her website here

Name: Carolyn Behrman
Age: 54
Hometown/Home now: I was born in Baltimore and have lived in too many places to count but I came to Akron in 1998 and have been here ever since. Since this is where I have lived longest, it is my hometown now!
Occupation: associate professor of anthropology

What are your BIG IDEAS?

“If I can be a space-hog and mention two, then I would mention (first) the Flashbulb idea, which my friends at Bettie Street Block Watch submitted to the Knight Foundation. It didn’t get funded but we still hope something like it will rise up from the incredible musical world of Akron and the phenomenal Porch Rokr to spread the wealth to other neighborhoods. The other idea was also a proposal we at Bettie Street Block Watch came up with. It is Cops on the Porch (in a good way): citizens and police officers getting together in a new way to push back stubborn crime. This idea has been brewing a bit. Wonderful community members have come forward to make suggestions for how to pilot it. We will be looking for Block Watch groups who want to participate and for community groups who would like to raise a little money to sponsor the cost of the police Extra Jobs which we understand comes to about $38/hour for a minimum of 3 hours which can be spread across several homes/porches.”

Carolyn B2More on Flashbulb: “Flash mobs brighten places temporarily. We think neglected places can be transformed for good by people, music and a few flowers bulbs. …We suggest outfitting a small truck with a sound system; tapping some of that same musical talent, which comes from every neighborhood, not just Highland Square; requesting Keep Akron Beautiful’s traveling tool-truck; and buying a lot of flower bulbs. On selected Spring and Fall weekends, at sites suggested by neighborhood leaders like Block Watch groups, the two trucks and the bulbs could show up, plug in, play and invite the neighbors near the abandoned lot or neglected space to come hear the music, hang out, and plant a bulb. For years later, that space will be theirs and the flowers will prove it. …We think Flashbulb will help less well-off communities to share in the musical wealth of this town.”

More on Cops on the Porch (in a good way): During a Block Watch meeting, “One woman said to the community police (COPs) officer, ‘If you were on my porch and could see what I see, maybe we could make a dent in this.’ From this, the idea developed to invite police to spend time hanging-out with citizens on their porches in stubborn crime areas. The COPs officer suggested creating an ‘extra jobs’ fund to pay officers to sit on porches with residents. The Block Watch leader suggested local Block Watches could compile lists of recommended dates/times. Interested officers would select job slots, come sit on porches, and have coffee with residents. Together, they could see, and hopefully prevent more crime.”

Why do you pursue your Big Ideas?

“These two ideas are so different but they both arise from living and working here. I am a professor at the university and I teach my students about urban cultures, diversity issues, community health and research methods. I firmly believe that the students and I will learn more and be better citizens if we embrace our broader Akron community and bring our strengths to the table. In our case, those strengths are academic but knowledge should serve the city. So, I look for opportunities to do this. In doing so, I have become committed to working with my students and other community members to name, describe, and then try to address community-based concerns together.”

When did you start thinking your Big Ideas might be good ideas too?

Flashbulb just kind of popped up because I’d been to Porch Rokr with the Block Watch president and we were thinking about how to bring something good to less well-off, well-networked neighborhoods in Akron. Cops on the Porch arose in a Block Watch meeting, as described above.

How do you hope your Big Ideas will help make Akron a little better?

“Spreading the music and making lots more beautiful, and less of a problem, seems like such a good thing to do together. And it seems like something that, although it may take a little effort, would be easy for a neighborhood to embrace. It could become a thing that happens – better than the ice cream truck which is so short-lived but like that in getting people out onto the street for a good experience.

“I think Cops on the Porch has the potential to shift attitudes by bring people together – helping officers and community members improve the way we keep our communities strong and safe.”