The Jewish New Year is approaching (it starts on the evening of Sept. 29), and as in many cultural traditions, it’s not only a time for family, friends, and good food, but also an opportunity for reflection – about the past, the present, and the future.
This past year was an extraordinary one at Venn. We saw that the values we grew up with, the values of community and making a difference, are not only our own values. They are the values of a global generation, a voice that resonates around the world. We met thousands of people that are just like us. We realized that it doesn’t matter where you grew up or which city you moved to – people want to enjoy urban life to the fullest and live in an area where they know their neighbors, where they feel like they’re part of a community that they can contribute to. Today, as we look around at our neighbors and members in Brooklyn, Tel Aviv, and Berlin, we see amazing connections being built and communities that are thriving.
We’ve come a long way this year and learned a lot of important lessons. Here is some of what we learned.
Make space to create and let life happen
We thought we knew the secret sauce for how to live a better, more fulfilling life in the city. We thought, “If we build it, they will come.”
Instead, we learned that everyone has their own version of a meaningful life, and people know best themselves how to craft their desired experiences. All we need to do is to build an environment which creates the right space and ignites the momentum, which reduces the stress of everyday life and empowers us to be more connected with ourselves and others, give voice to our passions, and participate actively in the communities we live in, with candid intention.
We understood that Venn is a platform – an enabler and facilitator for the passions, needs, and initiatives of the local community, with each and every neighborhood defined by its unique culture. Initially, we thought we needed to control the experience, but we realized that’s impossible, and that amazing things occur when people are invited to own the space of their creations and experiences. We learned that “If they build it, they will stay.”
We understood that Venn is a platform – an enabler and facilitator for the passions, needs, and initiatives of the local community, with each and every neighborhood defined by its unique culture.
A year ago, 90% of programs and events in Venn neighborhoods was generated by us. Over the course of the year, we shifted our focus to create more space for member-generated content. Now, in our most mature communities, over 90% of content is member-driven.
From community dinners to spoken-word nights, from weekly volunteering to leading activities at our community beach day — events and programs throughout the year have been created by community members, for community members. And we’ve seen the difference it makes. Our members are more active, engaged and connected to their neighborhood.
A big vision brings big challenges
We took upon ourselves the challenge to significantly improve the way city dwellers lead their day-to-day lives.Our vision is to encourage participation by creating ownership of local communities, and by lowering the stress and friction of daily urban life. Once this happens, it allows people to grow.
But, as with any effort that attempts to shift deep-rooted mindsets and habits, we have experienced some resistance and criticism. One of the critiques we’ve faced this year has been about the role we play in intensifying gentrification. The more active we are in neighborhood rejuvenation, the more impact we have on the changes it goes through – for better or worse. This year, we’ve had to explore what gentrification means for us, and whether it is something that we ignore, live with, or deal with straight on. We decided to take on the challenge and look it straight in the eye.
We believe gentrification can and should be done in an inclusive and responsible way. It starts with changing the narrative – gentrification is perceived negatively, when in fact it’s an inevitable process that our cities and neighborhoods are going through, due to the soaring levels of urbanization. But is every urban change negative? Aren’t our cities and neighborhoods in need of innovative models of revitalization? Can we use the power of community to embrace change, but make it inclusive, so that everyone benefits? Can we be intentional about gentrification in a way that minimizes the negative effects? These are the questions that we’ve been asking ourselves this year.
Changing the narrative
The second phase of working out our relationship with gentrification is clearly understanding the risks involved and how we, as Venn, have a role to play in mitigating them.
The way we see it, gentrification has two main risks: residents and small businesses being priced out, and neighborhoods losing their legacy, unique culture and identity. These are crucial urban issues. We want our membership to be open and inclusive, which is why we are committed to fair housing and inclusive economic growth. We want everyone to have the ability to rent in Venn neighborhoods, so we are taking action to develop affordable housing. We aim to support the ‘Hyper-Local’ community, which is why we’ve supported over 55 local businesses this year, with 80 local jobs. And we celebrate local culture authenticity, with over 500 local events supported by Venn, with over 6,000 participants just in the past 6 months – 70% of whom were from the local neighborhoods and were not Venn members.
At the end of the day, we are committed to bringing positive transformation to urban life, not just to our members, but to our neighborhoods and cities around the world.
The time is now
We realize that the issues we’re dealing with are timely and relevant, not just for us, but for others around the world. Venn has been covered in The NY Times, Haaretz, and we’re part of Facebook Israel’s first Playground program supporting rising startups. We are both thrilled and humbled to be part of the broader, global conversation about responsible development. It comes with a lot of positive momentum, hope and responsibility.
As we head into the Jewish New Year and the last quarter of the business year, we want to take this time to celebrate our achievements, say thank you to and recognize everyone who’s been a part of the journey so far, and also take a moment to learn from the challenges we’ve faced. As we look at the past year and plan for the next, we want to hold true to our values and continue learning important lessons, as we scale to help neighbors become active participants in their neighborhood, feel ownership over their community and transform the Neighborhood into the Neighbor’s Hood.
Wishing us all an amazing new year,
Or and the Venn family