Midtown Chalkboards Bring Low-Tech to High-Tech Community

Walk into a classroom in 2018 and the chances of you finding chalkboards are slim. You’re likely going to see a bright new SmartBoard instead. Chalkboards, once so prevalent in most people’s lives, seem to be becoming another obsolete thing of the past. While that may be true in some classrooms, the midtown neighbourhood would say otherwise.

Take a walk or a quick drive through the midtown neighbourhood in Kitchener and you will find four large chalkboards situated on street corners and trails. With tons of daily foot, bike and car traffic, the midtown chalkboards are hard to miss.

Juanita Metzger, midtown neighbourhood resident, said that the four chalkboards aim to connect directly with the people in the neighbourhood who might not be connected digitally.

“It’s kind of like a little love letter to the neighbourhood,” Metzger said. “It’s a very personal approach that is very old school and casual, with a bit of a nostalgic feel to it. People have an attachment to that kind of personal interaction.”

The first chalkboard was constructed in June of 2016 after the neighbourhood applied for a placemaking grant under the City of Kitchener’s Love My Hood strategy. As a concerted communal effort, a huge chalkboard was built as a message board to share and communicate upcoming events and activities to residents in the midtown neighbourhood.

Fast forward one year later and the first chalkboard was so successful that Metzger and her neighbours applied for additional funding through the City of Kitchener’s Neighbourhood Matching Grant to obtain additional funding to build three more chalkboards. As of July 2017, the four chalkboards rotate around the midtown neighbourhood to share announcements of upcoming events, community public service announcements, or just friendly messages.

“They’re multi-purpose. It’s just a very casual, non-threatening, engagement tool and people love them!” Metzger said. “For example, we use the chalkboards to announce public meetings about development because that is quite dramatically impacting the midtown neighbourhood.”

Emily Slofstra, co-chair of the Mount Hope-Breithaupt Park Neighbourhood Association, noted that with many tech giants, such as Google and Communitech just down the street, the chalkboards make it clear that low-tech and high-tech can live and work together harmoniously.

“We have seen and we know that there are people that come out to events because of the chalkboards.” Slofstra said.

“I would say that at every event there has been at least one or two people who showed up because they saw it on the chalkboard.” Metzger added. The chalkboards offer a unique type of information sharing that is refreshing and nostalgic. If you live in the midtown neighbourhood the chalkboards and their messages are unavoidable. Unlike getting email newsletters and event requests on social media, which are very easy to delete or ignore.

The midtown chalkboards do not have their own social media. Since the purpose of the chalkboards is to immediately connect with people living directly in the midtown neighbourhood, the wide and very broad audience on social media platforms takes away from that intent.

“We’re really focused on neighbour to neighbour connection within the community and the chalkboards are working to do that,” Slofstra explained.

Both Metzger and Slofstra attest the success of the chalkboards to the active involvement of neighbourhood residents. Keeping up with messages on four different chalkboards all year long is a constant task that requires a high level of coordination; from grant writing to chalk drawing, to carpentry. Luckily, the midtown neighbourhood residents are willing to volunteer their skills for their neighbourhood.

“It’s become a lived character of the way the neighbourhood operates,” Metzger described.