The three keynote speakers for the 2013 Neighborhoods, USA conference had a tough challenge, delivering a message that would resonate for the crowd of 600+ attendees, each one representing a community that has its own unique personality, character, and challenges.

John McKnight rose to the occasion by pointing at the gap between the services that municipal authorities provide and the services that healthy communities demand. That gap is the space that community organizations must fill and that gap is the common ground that all community organizations share, regardless of their local and specific circumstances.

McKnight laid down seven reasons that connected communities will prosper, pointing at indicators such as health, education, public safety, local economy, the environment, local food sources, and community pride.

He concluded by challenging participants to give up their roles as Advocates and to embrace their new calling as Producers.

Majora Carter used her life story to give context to her journey from angry resident of the South Bronx to her current role as an internationally renowned urban revitalization strategist. Carter started her career as a resident who only knew how to say “NO!” and then grew into her current role as an organizer who can deliver a “YES!”

Carter hit a nerve with her biography, one that saw her challenging the status quo and reaching a point of “Enough is enough!” When she discovered that her neighborhood, which already received 40% of the city’s waste, was slated to be developed for more waste disposal, she developed her ability to say “NO!”

Along the way, she realized that “NO!” wasn’t enough, and that the ability to block change wasn’t as important as the ability to control the change. The industrial river wasteland that first activated her as a catalyst for change is now a beautiful river park where she was recently married. And it all came true because she learned to turn the power of “NO!” into the even more potent power of “YES!”

Peter Kageyama also identified a gap, one that community organizations must fill, but he defined it as the gap between the city that we can afford and the city that we desire. How we bridge that gap depends on our ability to harness the power of passion.

Kageyama challenged his audience to demand more of their city than the delivery of basic services and to work together to develop a city with meaning, to develop a relationship with their city that is fueled with passion.

With a nod to Maslow, he laid down the hierarchy of municipal needs, starting with a foundation of the functional, followed by public safety, topped by the things that make life comfortable, complemented by things convivial, and then concluding with a heavy dose of FUN!

From large cities such as New York and Chicago that have tremendous infrastructure and programming to beaten down towns such as Braddock, PA that have lost 90% of everything they once had and are literally challenged to rise from the ruins using the only thing they have left, passion.

From Argentina to Arlington, from Kenya to Kenwood, the NUSA13 Conference attendees found common ground in these challenges to bridge the gap, embrace the Yes, and find the passion.