Community Connections Innovation

Cool Blocks engage neighbors to take action on climate & more

Raise your hand if any of these statements are true for you: 1) I love my street, but I wish I knew my neighbors better; 2) I worry about a disaster, but I’m not very well prepared; 3) I want to prevent climate change, but I don’t know where to start. Hands still up? Ours are too. That’s why we were excited about the Cool Block Program in Palo Alto, which aims to address all three of these dilemmas.

The Crescent Park Cool Block group is one of 20 new neighborhood groups working together this spring

Cool Blocks: a grassroots approach to climate change

The Cool Block program is part of the Cool City Challenge created by the Empowerment Institute, a consulting and training organization that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of cities. Cool Blocks engage a group of neighbors to work together on three goals: reducing energy and water usage, preparing for disaster and forging community connections. Check out this video to see more about the Palo Alto pilot program.

The City of Palo Alto rolled out its ‘alpha’ group of Cool Blocks in spring 2016 and it was such a positive experience that a new cohort of 20 block leaders was trained this winter to implement the program as a ‘beta’ phase.

“It’s a wonderful, fun way to get to know your neighbors, begin building community and save the planet,” said Cool Block Leader Julan Chu
Cool Blocks are part of the City’s strategy for carbon reduction

The Cool Block program is a key strategy in the City’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP), explained Sandra Slater, who is heading the Palo Alto effort. “The City of Palo Alto has made a commitment to reduce carbon consumption by 80% by 2030, and reaching that goal will require engagement from citizens on a grassroots level,” she said. “The Cool Block groups in our alpha phase both reduced their carbon consumption and forged new bonds with their neighbors. We are excited to support our next group of block leaders this spring.”

Knocking door-to-door to recruit neighbors

To recruit neighbors, Cool Block leaders eschew email and social media and knock on doors in person. While it sounds intimidating, this old fashioned approach works for motivating people to get involved. Neighbors from over 15 households came to the introductory meeting for our Crescent Park Cool Block group and 10 committed to be part of the three month program.

Kicking off the Cool Block with enthusiasm…and laughter

Jon Richards and Chris Conner are working to reduce energy usage, prepare for disasters and build strong neighborhood bonds.

At our kickoff meeting this week, and the enthusiasm was high and neighbors said they were excited to share ideas for reducing energy and water use, support each other to prepare for disasters and forge stronger community and social connections. A bonus? It was really fun!

In a world that seems a bit crazy and out of control at times, the Cool Block program offers a unique way to work together to make a difference, one block at a time. We’ll report back about our progress as the Crescent Park Cool Block group moves into action this spring.

To learn more about the Cool Blocks in Palo Alto, visit the website or email Sandra Slater at

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About the author

Victoria Thorp

Victoria Thorp

Victoria is the founder and editor of Palo Alto Pulse and has lived in Palo Alto since 2007. Victoria's diverse professional background includes working as the editor of , as a senior writer for KIPP and Teach for America, and as a radio producer for City Visions on KALW (91.7FM San Francisco). She is a graduate of Leadership Palo Alto and a member of the Palo Alto Partners in Education Advisory Board.

She has a BA in English from Tufts University and Masters in Education and Secondary Teaching Credential in English from UCLA.