Insights from a conversation with Business Leaders in Milton

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on November 20, 2013 - 11:42am

One member of the group shared how growing up, he had two main communities: their family and sports community. When his grandfather died, all his sports friends showed up and brought food and helped out.  It was incredible the feeling of connection and support he felt through that experience.

Another member who works for a bereavement service talked about how more and more people are doing a simple cremation and skipping the larger funeral experience so they will not feel this sense of community.  This avoidance stems from a discomfort with vulnerability.

We talked about how it would be interesting to create that community experience at other points in your life, not just after death.  Can your community come out for you not just during times of crisis?

A member shared about how moving was a huge community experience for him.

To counter this point, a member said it feels weird having other people help you.  There is an awkwardness that comes with it.  He went on to say: “I am not the kind of person who asks if others need help.  If they need help I am there in a second but I will not ask them if they need help.  At the same time I do not like asking others for help.  I do not want to be a burden on them.”

In response a member said this does not make sense;  you help out, it's what you do.

She talked about how her kids helped shovel a neighbours drive way when her neighbour's shoulder was injured.

The first countered that, yes, this is true but that is a situation where a person clearly needs help.  There is a clearly defined social norm that you help.  There was a time when he shoveled his neighbour's driveway and was shooed away because if you shovel my driveway I will be expected to shovel your drive way and I don’t want to enter that kind of relationship.  There is this tit for tat and then I feel like I am in your debt.

What about hitch hikers?  "If it is raining outside and I see someone who has bags I will offer them a ride home," said another business representative.   From a human perspective this makes sense but social norms say that one should not take a ride from a stranger.  That it is dangerous.  It speaks to a lack of trust in our society.

He countered, that for him giving them a ride home means that I know they get home safe.

All the business leaders in the room shared a frustration they had about the perception of business and community. Businesses are very important when it comes to fostering community, for instance, through donations that fund community initiatives. Think about all the sports teams and events that are sponsored by local business.

However, they also accepted that more and more businesses are becoming disconnected from the community.  A bunch of new big businesses are coming to Milton where employees are from out of town and the business is a 3rd party so they have no connection and feel no responsibility to the community.  They stated that there is a need for entrepreneurship and opportunities for local businesses to flourish.

They talked about the importance of space to foster community through business.  You want the local business or start-up that you know to be run by people within your community.  The challenge is that the land in Milton is too expensive; the only people who can afford it are those big businesses and chain restaurants.  The local people who want to start a business cannot afford the land, or if they do, it's in a bad location and so they struggle to succeed.  You need to have the space for community to foster and be accessible to those who wish to influence it.

Milton is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada.  Therefore, intentional urban development is going to be a key part of the community building strategy for Milton.  They are shrinking the backyard and try to get people to spend more time in the front.  As part of this, developers are then expected to help cover the cost of local parks and common spaces.  Nowm with the economy struggling, developers are pushing back.  The city is also looking at cutting back costs.

If we are going to say community is important to us and we set up this design, we have to follow through.  We can’t cut corners with the community space.  One member said that it is a money thing.

People in the group pushed back saying, back in the day it wasn’t about money at.  If you wanted to connect with people, you just connected.  You made things happen using what you had at your fingertips.  You didn’t have all the red tape.

But you need to have some type of regulation because otherwise it is just chaos.

There was a real pride in the type of people who are in Milton right now.  There is a population who are young, well-educated, worldly and wealthy who are going to be big change-makers moving forward.

There was a discussion about the dynamic between big and small.  One member of the group talked about how she spent most her life living in big cities then one day she found herself living in a small community and it was a real culture shock.  One time someone came up to her saying, "hey! I saw you walking the dog the other day."  She was shocked that someone had seen her, recognized her and then told her about it.

In urban centers you have a real anonymity.

In rural spaces you are never off.  Even in Milton.  If you are a high profile person in the community, during off hours people will come up to you in the grocery store and will want to talk with you.  And you have to wear make up wherever you and have a public face.

In urban centers you don’t have this nearly as much.  If you are off the clock, you are off the clock, no one will know who you are.

In rural communities there is an expectation that you are involved in the community because there are not that many people so you need to be involved.  In urban centers this expectation is not there.  You can cruise through without being involved in anything.  No ones going to know or care.

One member is fascinated by the idea of midsized community as the balance.

We talked about how rural communities struggle to be economically viable.

When there are not a lot of people from a certain culture, you are forced to integrate with those around you.  One person talked about how, as foreigner coming to Canada, you integrate: you learned how to play hockey, baseball and be a “Canadian kid.”  His kids, though, have all Asian friends, which is their cultural background.  He doesn’t know why that’s the case. When there si enough diversity, still, children and adults typically gravitate towards those who are similar to themselves.

"It's important that we integrate," said one person.

They talked about how there really aren’t any major faith buildings in Milton, so if you want to stay connected to your faith community, you have to drive out to it.  Which means that when you are in Milton you don’t have the option to spend time in your own community.  You are forced to connect with people from other faith groups and background.

The group talked about time and priorities.

“I don’t have enough time!”

Yes, you do- it's just not a big enough priority.  The same amount of time as we always had we just prioritize it different now.  If we are unhappy we need to shift how we prioritize things.

This conversation was a truly magical experience.  The energy and ideas just flowed from people.  The hope is that there will be more business conversations coming soon.