Big move, new city... No community!

Submitted by DavidClarke on October 31, 2012 - 10:00am
I didn't realize what it was until it was gone.

Growing up, I never really bought into the idea that community is a place.  I always felt that community (like home) is where the heart is. Well, that was true up until I got married and moved away from my friends and family.  After 7 or 8 years living away from constant contact (well, physical proximity) with my family  and having developed my own little community of friends, I’ve changed how I think about community-as-a-place.

For me, community is a feeling of belonging and a sense of ownership in a region.  I feel like belonging is directly influenced by the (deeper) social ties that occur in an area, and the ownership is a result of regular interactions with familiar objects, people and locations.  Do I feel like I belong? Yes! I’ve developed friends and networks in the area, and I definitely have regular interactions with the local pizza pizza staff (among others).  But there is something else missing in my sense of ownership – and I think it is safety. 

Maybe I don’t feel like I can control my circumstances, and that probably has a lot to do with living in an apartment building.  I know I felt more “at home” when I was working as an assistant building representative – I had some level of control over selecting my neighbors. And building a network of friends and support was something I never thought about consciously.  I had always felt that friendship grows (or not) based on personality and circumstance.  And although that is technically true – the physical structure of my “community” creates a unique circumstance for my emotional “community” of support.  I have lived in the same apartment complex for the last 8 years – plenty of neighbors – but they are almost all transitory.  The people I do see living near me are the same people I see working nearby.  While I have friendly neighbors, I would not consider them a core part of my community.  And because I don’t feel like my neighbors are part of my community, I still have a small sense of displacement.

So what would fix this? I don’t know.  Definitely living in proximity to people out of choice – but a level of comfortable proximity will be highly individual!  Taking ownership in my region? I feel impotent if I can’t create lasting change.  How can I belong to a community when I can’t invest physically and emotionally in its well-being?  I feel like I have a community of support, but not a community location.  I may not feel particularly displaced, but I certainly don’t feel like I belong.  And that sense of belonging to a physical place? That is true community.

transitory neighbours

I agree that physical place is important. We have two apartment buildings near us and it is nearly impossible to build community with people in them when they move every 4-12 months. But there was a notable exception. Two young men who moved into one of the apartments knocked on our door one evening in Sept and gave us homemade hummus and mustard. Homemade! They took time to reach out to us and when I'd bump into them they'd take time to talk. I still feel connected to them even though they've moved. They taught me to make homemade marshmallows - now that's memorable : )

So... it is possible to feel a sense of community with transitory neighbours but it takes effort from both people to connect.

Do you have an excuse to bump into and connect with people, David? Like a backyard fire to gather around or a hotdog stand? I read about a man who sets his sewing machine up on the sidewalk every thursday afternoon and offers to repair people's clothes. Others join him to help sew and bring their loose buttons or splitting seams. I love this idea! What would a parallel activity be in your hood?


Community Development

I love the thought that someone would set up a sewing machine and help others.  It seems like such a basic part of a home (when I think about it) and yet, in a small space like a apartment, it may not be something people have access to.

People in my neighbourhood seem open to these sorts of friendly activities - but there is also a lot of vandalism and crime.  I like to think that high levels of positive neighbourhood activity diminish negative activity, and I worry what it would be like without the types of people who give back.

Care to share?

Hi David,

Thanks for your post and response. It sounds like you are in a neighborhood that is open to community building- despite some difficulties you have identified.

Where have you seen positive engagement already? Do you have any neat stories- Can you share?

Looking forward to hearing from you!