A New Year Obsession

Submitted by Paul Born on January 9, 2018 - 5:21am

As we enter into yet another chaotic year, do we dare optimism? Or, do we embrace a growing sense that it is too late? Should we just let things unravel, focus on what is best for Me, and watch it all come tumbling down?

I am at heart, an anti-poverty activist, and have spent the better part of thirty years building a national network of more than 100 cities working together to end economic poverty in Canada. I am optimistic that the goal of ending poverty in this country will be achieved in my lifetime.

But, over the past five years, I have embraced another obsession - to strengthen communities and the sense of belonging for people who are living and working in cities. This obsession started because I saw weakening community engagement and citizenship in cities as a threat to our poverty reduction strategy. I was seeking a way to ensure people would deepen their sense of and care for their communities. My obsession led me and my great team at Vibrant Communities to:

  • Work with seven cities to experiment turning Deepening Community theory into practice. Our goal is to help these cities develop plans that will deepen the experience of community for citizens.
  • Help advance neighbourhood planning in partnership with many city leaders. Today, just over 30 cities that have or are developing broad ranging Neighbourhood Strategies, have joined together in a learning community.
  • Initiate a community of practice on disaster preparedness to understand citizen roles in emergency response and post-disaster recovery. 

My new obsession has me wondering if there is an antidote; a prescription that if prescribed, would alleviate the fear and anxiety present in these chaotic times. Is there something that would calm the collective mistrust arising in cities all around us? Could this antidote be community? Could it be, that if we trusted our immediate neighbours - grounding ourselves in place -  that our faith in humanity might be restored?

Is then, the prescription that we seek for a peaceful world, actually a methodology that would help people to trust their neighbours; a methodology that is characterized by listening to and really hearing one another's stories, having fun together, learning to care for each other; and then mobilizing that trust to work together to build a better world? Can we be a catalyst to bond and bridge relationships, to seek out and connect people who are dissimilar and people who are in-need, with the understanding that peaceful community is our only hope for survival? Can we help people deepen their experience of community, and in turn, inoculate the fear of the “other”?

A tall order of optimism I am sure, but this is the nature of obsessions