Tool-sharing library coming to Whittier neighborhood

‘This space, at the end of the day, is about building culture.’
“All I want is a village. I want a place where people feel safe. I want a place that people can...
“All I want is a village. I want a place where people feel safe. I want a place that people can walk somewhere and gather with their people."(Jordan Deffenbaugh)
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 11:56 AM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A tool-lending library is one of several changes on the way for the Whittier neighborhood in Sioux Falls — changes determined and implemented by those who live and work in the neighborhood.

The Sioux Falls Tool Library

A tool-sharing library is a program that lends tools and equipment to members of the community, providing access to tools that may be expensive to purchase or not used often enough to justify buying them. One such library is beginning to take shape at 921 E. 8th St. in the basement of a former bar.

Jordan Deffenbaugh, advisor and curriculum co-designer for the BAM Institute of Civic Biodesign, said the library in the Whittier neighborhood will house hand tools, power tools, and some lawn care equipment.

Deffenbaugh hopes the lending library will be a space where people can go for all the odds and ends needed to finish their projects.

“Say you’re building a deck,” Deffenbaugh said. “You need an impact nailer, a drill, you maybe need a post-hole digger. You might need a chisel. You might need a chalk line. That adds up! A DeWalt tool set right now is $200, and if you’re not actively investing in a home, you’re not really going to need it that much.”

Cohesion is a primary goal in assembling the library. Rather than each household being isolated, using independent contractors and focusing on individual punch lists, the vision in sharing resources is “construction management at a neighborhood level.”

“What if there was a resource space where we were managing projects collectively, and rather than having this space where there’s a hard line [between the city and private property], there’s more cohesion and more collaboration with the independent property owners and the municipalities, as well as the community itself?” Deffenbaugh said.

Alongside acting as a space for accumulating resources for neighborhood projects, the location will also be somewhere neighbors can engage with each other and “deploy actions in incremental ways at low costs,” like painting a crosswalk or putting up a bus stop.

As the project progresses, the eventual plan will be to move the tool library out of the basement space into a larger space, ideally a warehouse.

The players

The project is one of multiple funded by a $100,000 grant through the South Dakota Community Foundation’s Beyond Idea Grant (BIG) Program. The grant aims to support community-based problem solving in the state.

The grant was awarded to the BAM Institute of Civic Biodesign to help their efforts in deploying the CRC, a community revitalization collective focused on the future wellness of the Whittier neighborhood.

The BAM Institute is a “higher education organization dedicated to raising emergent leaders who deploy whole-system, regenerative strategies through immersive learning in embedded community contexts.”

The Whittier neighborhood resource library is meant to be the headquarters for the CRC — a space to organize from, says Deffenbaugh.

The game plan

Deffenbaugh says there are five maps of Whittier, and it’s difficult to get anyone to agree on which one is right.

This makes defining the neighborhood the first step of the project. Deffenbaugh says the initial gatherings in a series of 50 potlucks and ten forums in the Whittier neighborhood will ask the question, “What is Whittier?”

“There’s literally no cohesion in our understanding of what Whittier is. Even just deciding the gameboard, we don’t have an understanding.”

He hopes to hear from neighbors what the boundaries are.

Once there is consensus on what constitutes the Whittier neighborhood, the focus will be on the neighborhood’s existing assets and building on what’s already there.

Deffenbaugh says the asset-focused strategy for building programs is modeled by the Quality of Life framework used by Habitat for Humanity, an organization partnering in the project.

“[The framework] was developed based on a theory of assets-based community development, always leading with what is working, always leading with what the community values and looks at as an asset,” Deffenbaugh said.

“You could argue Nikki’s grocery is an asset. I believe it is an asset. Their avocados are an asset to this neighborhood. You could look at this yoga studio as an asset. You could look at the crosswalks as assets. You could look at the people in this neighborhood as an asset.”

For Deffenbaugh, the question then becomes how to develop those things that are naturally there.

The plan will be to focus on a different task each year. The first year, the aim is to build a sense of community. The following year, the focus will be on social cohesion, bringing data to everyone and discussing it. “Then the third year, that’s where it gets interesting. That’s the year of collective action,” Deffenbaugh said.

Other projects in the works

In addition to the tool library, a number of related community development projects are planned, including a yoga studio, a civic library, a seed library, and a series of neighborhood potlucks.

The Joy Collective yoga studio, Sioux Falls’ only downtown, non-heated traditional yoga studio, is starting in the upper space of the building at 921 E. 8th St. The yoga studio led by Sarah Lindemulder shares a common mission with the tool library.

“If this is about healing of the self up here, downstairs is about the healing of the neighborhood, the healing of the community, and looking at wellness not exclusively as something that we treat at a hospital, but rather how it emanates from every street that we walk down,” Deffenbaugh said.

In the basement beside the tool library will be a podcast-recording area and a civic library.

“We have the books already. A big part of our work in the institute has been creating an archive of pertinent texts,” said Deffenbaugh.

Outside, a community gathering space will be created. Deffenbaugh envisions a flattop, chairs, and possibly a deck. The group will also be working with IronFox Farm to plant garden spaces.

Deffenbaugh shared that the BAM Institute runs the Common Roots Seed Library, which is going into the Ronning branch of Siouxland Libraries soon.

“We have a seed library at Sweetgrass, we have one here, and we’re also going to have one at Ace Academy,” said Deffenbaugh. “The fourth one will be at the Ronning branch, and that one will be our first official one in the library system.”

The hope is that the seed library will expand across the Siouxland Libraries, providing about 70 types of seeds that anyone can check out, plant, and harvest.

A series of potlucks and coffee gatherings are also slated for this year. The meals serve multiple purposes in Deffenbaugh’s eyes — feeding the neighborhood, bringing them into community with each other, and offering a venue for discussing and developing ideas.

“What we’re going to be doing this summer, above all else, is getting people together and feeding them. There’s something about when you have a taco in your hand and you’re talking about these things — you’re a little more understanding.”

The greater impact

The tool-lending project and related efforts have benefits beyond the immediate and tangible.

“It’s a tool library, yes, there will be the Sioux Falls Tool Library that will be incubating out of there ... but then we’re also going to have community meetings that examine the Whittier neighborhood as an ecosystem, as a place,” said Deffenbaugh.

What I’m excited about with this space and the people who are doing this is pulling back the veil and saying what’s actually good, what do we actually want, and actually listening to people, and doing so in the context of their neighborhood — not in the city center, not at the city public library, but we’re on their block. We’re going to talk about this corner or this crosswalk or this park, and we’re talking about it while we’re there.

Jordan Deffenbaugh

One benefit of fostering community and idea-sharing in the neighborhood has been decreased crime in the area. This was evident a few months ago when a Harvest Festival was held, feeding 900 people.

“The block that has the highest crime rate in the city had no reports of crime for 24 hours. Imagine if you gave people their basic needs what would happen,” said Deffenbaugh.

Another benefit of the project is an increased understanding of and ability to address mental health concerns in the neighborhood.

As a part of the grant, Deffenbaugh will be trained to do resource navigation through the Helpline Center, gaining a new understanding of the 211 system. The hope is that Deffenbaugh can recognize the needs in those who come through the community space — whether a guest at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House or someone working on a property in the neighborhood — and refer them to the right resources.

The mere act of gathering with others will have a positive effect on mental health for those in the neighborhood, Deffenbaugh says.

“When we talk about mental illness in our community, the fact that we’re so isolated, the fact that we’re so cut off from the basic human need to commune — it exacerbates the dysregulation in ourselves. Our nervous systems are cooled and soothed with the presence of people. We are a tribal species by nature.”

The programs in development for the neighborhood will help combat that isolation.

Future vision for the neighborhood

The goal of all programming is to focus on the hyperlocal. This means recognizing the neighborhood’s specific, diverse strengths and letting those guide decisions for change.

“Whittier is a village, in and of itself, and if you treat it like a village, it will be strong like a village,” said Deffenbaugh. “We need the grocery store, we need Franklin over there, we need Nikki’s over here, we need the Whittier Middle School, we need the houses in there.”

Deffenbaugh wants the future of the neighborhood to look much the same as it does now, but with greater engagement in decision-making for those who live and work there.

“We cannot continue a cookie-cutter model of development and growth. It has to be much more granular. There have to be more players in the mix — it has to be multilingual, multicultural.”

Deffenbaugh hopes to see stakeholders of “different cultural backgrounds, different lineages, different languages, skin tones, and in the hundreds of different people having a say, rather than the current model, which is really just a few people who make the decisions.”

Beyond that, Deffenbaugh wants to see a community that’s accessible for residents.

“I’d love if someone who lives in Whittier could stay in their neighborhood to get everything they need. They wouldn’t have to leave Whittier to live. I’d love that to be true for neighborhoods across the city,” he said.

Whittier’s a great neighborhood. It might be my favorite neighborhood in the city. There are so many elements that make it the sort of community I want to live in. I want to live in a place where I can walk, where I can see people in the street, where I feel safe walking these streets.

Jordan Deffenbaugh
How you can get involved

Stay up to date about upcoming meetings and events happening in the Whittier neighborhood by visiting

Contribute by donating to the GoFundMe fundraiser for the tool library.

If you live in the Whittier neighborhood, plan to attend a tool drive at the shared space (921 E. 8th St.) on March 29. The event will also be a time the neighborhood starts working with collaborators and identifying where the potlucks and forums will happen.

Whittier neighborhood residents are welcome to attend yoga with The Joy Collective. The grand opening is set for next week, March 25.

Neighborhood revitalization framework
Neighborhood revitalization framework(Habitat for Humanity)