Max Musicant wants to build stronger communities one front yard at a time. Starting Wednesday, St. Paul residents got their chance to join the effort.

Musicant has put together a downloadable tool kit meant to encourage people to turn their front yards into more welcoming places to congregate and, perhaps, meet their neighbors. Thanks to an $82,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge, Musicant put his ideas online as part of the Friendly Front Lawns Project. The tool kits are available at

The tool kit, he said, prompts people to look at their yards and think about what would make them more inviting — Chairs? Gathering places? Activities to draw people in?

Often, he said, those parts of a yard are behind the house. The idea is to move it all to the front, where neighbors can see you, stop and chat a bit. Suddenly, a neighborhood becomes more connected.

“Relationships are built and strengthened,” Musicant said. “There are more eyes on the street … and it becomes a safer place.”

Musicant’s project was one of two St. Paul winners of the Knight Cities Challenge, which split $5 million among 37 projects nationwide meant to help cities attract talented people and encourage civic engagement. The other St. Paul winner will send out “I’m going to vote today” stickers ahead of election day to get more people to the polls. The challenge asked the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?

Musicant said he got his idea after a fire alarm sounded at his Minneapolis apartment building a few years ago. As his neighbors milled about, he realized he didn’t know them. So he went to Home Depot, bought some cheap chairs and started sitting in his front yard. Within the first week, he said, he got to know half his neighbors.

The online tool kit is actually the second phase of Musicant’s community engagement project. For the past month, he has been working with a group of about 20 Frogtown and Hamline-Midway residents to foster more welcoming front yards.

“We chose those neighborhoods because we wanted to show this project is approachable for anybody, no matter their income,” he said.

And on Sept. 11, residents will host “normal day” gatherings in front yards throughout the city to encourage others to join the effort. Musicant said he wants to take the online tool kits nationwide next spring.